Justice Adrienne Nelson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon

A trailblazer on the state bench, Justice Adrienne Nelson is poised to become the first African American woman on the Oregon federal bench.


Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Arkansas, Nelson found her way into legal advocacy early, when her mother sued her school to permit Nelson to be the school’s valedictorian, instead of a white student with a lower GPA who was initially selected. See Eden Dawn, Meet Adrienne Nelson, the Second Black Female Judge in Oregon History, Portland Monthly, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.pdxmonthly.com/news-and-city-life/2017/09/meet-adrienne-nelson-the-second-black-female-judge-in-oregon-history. Nelson subsequently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas in 1990 and got a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 1993.

After graduation, Nelson moved to Portland, worked as a contract attorney and then as a public defender. After three years as a public defender, Nelson joined Bennett, Hardman, Morris & Kaplan LLP for five years and then joined Student Legal and Mediation Services.

In 2006, Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Nelson to the Multnomah County Circuit Court. In 2018, Governor Kate Brown elevated Nelson to the Oregon Supreme Court, making her the first African American appellate judge in Oregon history. Nelson has served on the court since.

In 2011, while she was on the Multnomah County Circuit Court, Nelson was one of five candidates recommended by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to replace Judge Michael Hogan on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Wyden and Merkley Send Names of Five Finalists for Federal Judgeship to the White House, States News Service, Mar. 6, 2012. The Obama Administration chose one of Nelson’s Multnomah County colleagues, Judge Michael McShane, for nomination, and McShane was confirmed in 2013.

History of the Seat

Nelson has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. This seat opened on December 27, 2021, when Judge Michael Mosman moved to senior status.


Nelson served as a Circuit Court Judge from 2006 to 2018. In this role, she served as a primary trial judge, supervising criminal and civil cases. For example, Nelson acquitted Mary Jo Pullen-Hughes for the charge of phone harassment, finding that there was not enough evidence of her intent to harass. OR Woman Acquitted of Phone Harassment of Feds, A.P. State & Local Wire, Mar. 1, 2010. Some of Nelson’s rulings have been appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court. For example, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed a ruling by Nelson precluding psychological testimony at trial after plaintiffs failed to deliver the reports prepared by their psychological expert during discovery. See A.G. v. Guitron, 268 P.3d 589 (Ore. 2011).

In contrast, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed Nelson’s denials of motions to suppress in a number of cases, finding, in one case, that Nelson erred in finding that the defendant had no constitutional privacy interest in actions in a public restroom. See State v. Holiday, 310 P.3d 1149 (Ore. App. 2013). See also State v. Adams, 185 P.3d 570 (Ore. App. 2008) (reversing conviction where officer unlawfully stopped defendant without reasonable suspicion); State v. Chambers, 203 P.3d 337 (Ore. App. 2008) (holding that an officer’s detention of defendant was not justified under the community caretaker exception to the Fourth Amendment).

Since 2018, Nelson has been a member of the Oregon Supreme Court, serving as the court’s first African American member. See Andrew Selsky, In a First, African-American Named to Oregon Supreme Court, A.P. State & Local, Jan. 3, 2018.

Writings and Statements

Nelson has frequently spoken on the law at various legal events and symposiums throughout the state, as well as discussing her own rise to the bench. See, e.g., Eden Dawn, Meet Adrienne Nelson, the Second Black Female Judge in Oregon History, Portland Monthly, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.pdxmonthly.com/news-and-city-life/2017/09/meet-adrienne-nelson-the-second-black-female-judge-in-oregon-history. Nelson’s unique background has also drawn media attention, and Nelson has been speculated as a potential nominee for the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit. Compare Andrew Kragie, Meet the Possible Nominees for Justice Breyer’s Seat, Law360, Jan. 26, 2022 with Andrew Kragie, Biden Gets 1st Opening on 9th Circ. Thanks to Judge Graber, Law360, Feb. 16, 2021.

Overall Assessment

After being considered as a potential nominee for both the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court, Judge Adrienne Nelson has now been tapped for the district court in Oregon. Based on her time in the Oregon legal community, it will be difficult to deny Nelson’s credentials for the position.


  1. She’s a good nominee who I was afraid would get the 9th (OR) seat. I wanted somebody younger then their mid 50’s so I was very pleased when Jennifer Sung was announced. Other then her age, Adrienne Nelson is great. I’m very surprised she’s leaving the Oregon SCOTUS for a district court seat but if that’s the choice in lieu of the 9th then I’ll take it.


    • This pervasive thinking that it is better to appoint younger people as judges is based on a faulty assumption that the younger person will stay on the bench longer. I predict that we will see a trend of judges who were in their 30s and 40s when appointed resigning after a decade or so. They will be disappointed with the bench if not elevated to the next position, and will still be young enough to enjoy other opportunities. We’ve already seen it with Judge Costa of the Fifth Circuit and Judge Kallon of the Northern District of Alabama, both Obama appointees. Judges who are appointed in their 50s probably will stay longer overall and we should value that life experience and judgment. I prefer a GenX nominee any day.


    • I was thinking the same thing this morning. All 3 Dems announced pretty early last week they had Covid so the 5 days should be up by now. I haven’t seen any reports of additional senators coming down with Covid.

      I think Schumer already set up Lara Montecalvo’s vote after Freeman. But I totally agree they need to start the discharges by the end of this week if all 50 Dems are back. He started the discharge process at the end of last week for somebody for a position o never even heard of. I wish I could sit him in a room & tell him I don’t want to hear any of y’all name come out of his mouth on the senate floor except for judicial nominees for the rest of the month.


      • If they have been waiting for a longer period of time than the judicial nominees, I don’t have any issue with it. Otherwise, I concur with you completely. Discharges should be a high priority when all Democrats are present, especially as we move closer to the midterms and time is of the essence.


      • Discharge votes should be prioritized when all 50 Dems are in town for two reasons;

        First, the obvious is all it takes is one Covid case & Dems don’t have all 50 in town for a week. Second, I don’t believe you have to give 48 hours advance notice for discharge votes like you do for cloture votes. So if you have all 50 Dems or a Republican is out for a day or two, those votes should be prioritized. I would always prioritize circuit court discharges first. Here’s the break down on who was tied in the SJC…

        Nancy Abudu – January 10, 2022
        Rachel Bloomekatz – May 25, 2022

        Dale Ho – September 30, 2021
        Kenly Kiya Kato – December 15, 2021

        I would say it’s a strong possibility Brad Garcia will be added to that list. Depending on if Durbin adds any SJC hearings (If not, I count three more hearings before the midterms) then Julie Rikelman will certainly be added to that list. I would bet on a couple of the California district court nominees as well.


  2. Some Michigan Supreme Court news


  3. If the person who adds the new judicial nominee photos on wikipedia is the same person updating the the Biden circuit court appointments is here, please correct it. It’s consistently 1 confirmation behind, Biden has had 21 confirmed not 20.


    • @Mike

      Hello sir. Sorry but there was a problem with this site so I am just reviewing your message now. I know you sent it a while back so I’m an not sure if the problem has been resolved. I am the guy that updates most of the Wikipedia pictures but other users usually updates the judge count. They may take a day or two but they usually stay on top of it so I’m sure it’s been relived by now.



  4. Can anybody give me a breakdown of what other work the senate must get done before the end of the year besides judicial nominees? I know executive nominees, ambassadors &positions I probably never heard of. What else?

    Off the top of my head, I can think of a gay marriage bill & I think a budget bill but I’m not sure what else. Just trying to think of how many more days we realistically have to confirm judges before the end of the year. I’m just thankful that none of the last 5 (Including Freeman) circuit court nominees have taken anywhere near 30 hours. When I was doing my calculation on how Schumer can confirm every circuit court nominee last month, I was counting each of them for 30 hours each. If Freeman can be confirmed in 16 post cloture hours, that’s a great sign.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not a whole lot in terms of legislation. I would guess that gay marriage, budget, and the Electoral Vote Act reform will be basically it before the midterm.

      After the midterm, there may be a third reconciliation bill to try to combat some of the sabotage efforts that the GOP House may try to do. That may include a debt ceiling increase, some sort of extra funds for a government shutdown or for aid to Ukraine/Europe, etc. Personally I would just let the GOP dig their grave here but I can see why the Dem leadership may not agree.

      Regardless, every single nominee who has had a hearing before the midterm should be confirmed. If the Democrats hold the Senate, then you can make a decision on whether to hold hearings for the remaining the nominees or punt them to 2023.


      • @Shawn

        Ok, makes sense. Yea I agree depending on if Dems hold the senate they can decide if they want to take their feel off the pedal. I believe once nominees have a hearing on one Congress they don’t have to have a second hearing the next year even though it’s a different senate. But hopefully they can confirm as many of the circuit court nominees before the midterms. I’m not worried about district court nominees. Schumer can knock a bunch of them out in a week. Thank God the 30 hours isn’t a hard rule. That’s really saving time right now.


  5. Leah Litman would be a fantastic pick. She definitely would be a great addition to the 6th circuit. Let’s hope Michigan does a better job picking their SCOTUS justices then California or New York has over the past 5 years or so.


    • @ Dequan

      In New York did Gov Cuomo make NY State Supreme Court appointments?..

      In FL & TX, Republicans were able to gerrymander to their hearts content, but in NY, (one of the few states Democrats completely control) their proposed map was struck down by the NY Supreme Court..

      If only more progressive people were chosen for the NY Supreme Court


      • The current NT Court of Appeals (That states highest court), Cuomo has all by one of the justices appointed by him. And not one of them were young progressives. One is an out right Republican & two others are DINO’s. Absolutely horrible for a blue state.

        In California, Jerry Brown did phenomenal with his picks. Governor Newsom, not so much. He picked a progressive black man but he was 61. He just picked a Latina for Chief Justice which is great, but not a particularly progressive one. And his other pick, a black woman (I believe she is also LGBT) is good but once again it lose to her mid 50’s.

        Those two states should be stacked with young progressives. Sadly they are not.


  6. And it’s even more horrible in that it’s FAR easier to confirm state Supreme Court justices than federal judicial nominees, especially in a 50-50 senate..

    Shame on Cuomo for %$@^$ that up, before he was forced out, he was governor about 12 years…..Good riddance


    • I totally agree Rick. I read in more then one article that his last two picks before he was forced to resigned had progressive groups against their nominations but he picked them because he somehow thought they would help him stay in office. Truly horrible, that puts him in Trump territory. Thankfully their horrible Chief Justice stepped down so hopefully Hocul can start to undo some of the damage he caused. It will take years


  7. I don’t understand why these vote take a hour. They work 3 days a week & the time for the votes are announced the day before in most cases. What’s so hard with everybody being on the senate floor within a 20 minute period.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The majority leader has to vote no when they want to reconsider failed votes so it’s really 48-49 meaning it would’ve passed if the two other senators were there.

      I can’t believe they didn’t tee up this vote for a full cacus day considering they knew it would be harder to confirm.


  8. Just pure incompetence from schumer, this just ruined the afternoon. They dont get that the senate odds are 50/50 right now, warnock is losing in GA and as per the NYT time article on polling when adjusted, ron johnson wins in Wi too. people need to start seriously getting it into their brains that mcconnell has a good chance to retake the majority.
    Its why this incompetence and laissez-faire attitude is insulting.


    • I absolutely agree. I get it tonight is primary night on New Hampshire but I’m sorry, this is a 50/50 senate. Do your job to earn my vote. Particularly when your dealing with a 3 day work week. Hassan could have voted & flew back home by 5pm & made it back by 8 or 9ish. She could have made her speech at 10:30pm just fine. Or at the very least they need to coordinate so that at most one Democrat is out at a time. Or coordinate your more liberal nominees on Monday’s & Thursday’s when all 50 can be in town & save the ones that will get at least one Republican vote for Tuesday & Wednesday. This shouldn’t be this hard.


  9. Montecalvo cloture invoked 51-45. Duckworth and Hassan still absent. Not sure what else can be accomplished today. Maybe just that TSA Director who was put on the calendar recently. Hopefully regroup tomorrow.


  10. Seems like it shouldn’t be a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. Thankfully they’ve already had the cloture vote, so this is literally just one vote they can schedule the next time there is a majority. Hassan should presumably be back tomorrow, so it’s possible that it gets done then.


  11. They have to vote on a motion to reconsider, so it’s 2 more votes; the motion to reconsider and then confirmation. Eric J. Soskin, a Trump appointment for inspector general, was denied cloture on Dec. 19, 2020. The Senate voted on the motion to reconsider on Dec. 21, and cloture and confirmation followed on the same day.


  12. Blazing incompetence. Who is shocked that Freeman would require a Dems + VP???
    What a waste of floor time.

    Addressing a couple things:
    Collins in *this* congress has not voted for circuit nominees without home state senators’ support (only 2 examples so far).
    This isn’t Hassan’s fault. I do not think that any senator is ever in DC on the day of their primary. It’s such bad optics. This is totally on Schumer.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. On another note, now with news that Kenneth Starr died today it made me think about how times have changed. He was confirmed to the DC Circuit at the age of 37 & resigned at the age of 43 to become US solicitor general. I think that would be unheard of today. I can’t imagine many jobs anybody would resign from the second highest court in the land for, let alone do it in their low 40’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Delco

      Apparently all it takes is a vote to reconsider & then the confirmation vote. So once all 50 Dems are back in town, she can be confirmed in quick succession. Schumer didn’t send a cloture motion for any additional judges today like he has done for about a week straight for each day the senate has been in session, so I’m assuming he won’t be voting for confirmation on any new judges Monday since it takes two days to vote for cloture after sending the motion forward. So perhaps he’s saving Monday for Freeman. Either that or perhaps discharge votes.


      • I wish Schumer would just send cloture motions for 2 or 3 circuit court nominees at a time instead of this drop drop one per day (Zero today). I guess he’s doing it because Republicans are not forcing the entire 30 hour post cloture time so he doesn’t want to rock the boat. I’m ok if that’s the reason because we’re averaging around 18 hours for each of the past 6 nominees, not counting the additional time for the 2 extra Freeman votes which you can’t blame the Republicans for.


      • That would be my guess as long as Duckworth plans on being back tomorrow. I assume Hassan doesn’t need two days off to make a speech so she should be back.

        The biggest hit today is no cloture motions were sent so there can’t be any confirmation votes Monday other then Freeman if she’s still pending even if they send a cloture motion tomorrow, unless they work on Friday (Haaaaaaa, I could barely type the words work & Friday in the same sentence without cracking up laughing).

        One thing we damn sure better see tomorrow is the SJC site updated showing a hearing next Wednesday.


  14. Just pure incompetence and failure from schumer and the democrats again, now arianna freeman due to their laziness will likely not be confirmed for weeks if not months, remember these clowns filled cloture on natasha merle and rescinded it? Only God knows when she will be confirmed. Mcconell will never be so incompetent to let a circuit court nominee fail on the floor, this stuff really pisses me off, because this lazy senators are taking voters for granted.
    If the votes arent there for the marriage bill, wasting floor time on it as a political stunt, i rather we confirm more judges with floor time than a publicity stunt you know wont pass, there are not 10 votes from the GOP, several senators on their aisle has indicated as well.
    Just grandstanding again from schumer.
    When will these clowns discharge abudu? only God knows


    • I think this would be a great time for them to work through the weekend. They can put the gay marriage bill up on Saturday & all of the news outlets would carry it with the senate working on a rare weekend. Of course they could use all day Friday for judges & after the gay marriage vote, discharge another nominee before the weekend starts for them. But of course they won’t do that. Just me thinking out loud trying to win an election.


      • From a political standpoint I would think this is exactly the weekend to do it. The Democrats seem to be losing a little stern. Hershal Walker has taken a slight lead over Warnock in the polls, Oz & JD Vance have both closed the gaps in the polls, Ron Johnson has a slight lead & both Nevada & Arizona is tightening.

        If the Democrats work on Saturday, even if just half a day, the news coverage will show them trying to codify same sex marriage canceling their plans to try & do so on a rare weekend session. Now in reality, if they would just work on Saturday until 2pm, the senators can still fly back home & attend fundraisers that same night.

        I think this comes down to what people want. Do they want to see their elected officials work 3 days a week so they can attend around the clock fundraisers or do they want to see their elected officials working hard to fight for their rights. I would argue people want to see the matter. I think we are under estimating hard work paying off, particularly when they can walk & chew gum at the same time by working half a day on Saturday & still attend fundraisers Saturday night.


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