Julie Rikelman – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

One of the foremost advocates for legal protections for a woman’s right to choose, Julie Rikelman, has been tapped for an appellate seat on the First Circuit.


A native of the Ukraine, Rikelman was born in Kyiv in 1972 and immigrated to the United States in 1979. Rikelman attended Harvard College, getting her B.A. in 1993 and then her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1997. Rikelman then clerked for Justice Dana Fabe on the Alaska Supreme Court and then for Judge Morton Ira Greenberg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

After her clerkships, Rikelman joined the Center for Reproductive Rights as a Blackmun Fellow. After her fellowship, she joined Feldman & Orlansky in Anchorage. In 2006, Rikelman returned to New York to join Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett and after two years there, she joined the litigation team at NBC Universal.

In 2011, Rikelman became senior litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Rikelman has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This seat opened when Judge Sandra Lea Lynch announced her desire to take senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.

Legal Experience

Outside her clerkships, Rikelman started her legal career as a fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights. During her fellowship, Rikelman represented Victoria, who sued Terrebonne Parish for failure to obtain a timely abortion while she was incarcerated. See Victoria W. v. Larpenter, 205 F. Supp. 2d 580 (E.D. La. 2002). Rikelman also notably assisted Priscilla J. Smith in successfully overturning a state hospital’s taking of mandatory drug tests from pregnant women as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67 (2001).

After her fellowship, Rikelman shifted to Anchorage where she represented Friends of Mark Begich, who was running for Mayor of Anchorage, in a suit challenging ballot placement in the election. See DeNardo v. Municipality of Anchorage, 105 P.3d 136 (Alas. 2005). Rikelman then shifted to New York where she represented NBC employees sued by Doug Copp for allegedly defamatory statements they made about him. See Copp v. Ramirez, 62 A.D.3d 23 (N.Y. App. Div. 2009).

Since 2011, Rikelman has worked on abortion rights litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Among her notable cases, she has handled the following:

  • A First Amendment challenge to informed consent provisions for abortion in Texas. See Tex. Med. Providers Performing Abortion Servs. v. Lakey, 667 F.3d 570 (5th Cir. 2012).
  • A First Amendment challenge to North Carolina laws requiring pregnant women to be informed about the state’s preference for childbirth over abortion. Stuart v. Loomis, 992 F. Supp. 2d 585 (M.D.N.C. 2014).
  • A Fourteenth Amendment challenge to restrictions on reproductive medications in Arizona. See Planned Parenthood Ariz., Inc. v. Humble, 753 F.3d 905 (9th Cir. 2014).
  • A challenge to a Mississippi requirement that abortion clinics have “admitting privileges” with local hospitals as an “undue burden” to the right to choose. Jackson Women’s Health Org. v. Currier, 760 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2014).
  • A First Amendment challenge to a North Carolina law requiring that physicians perform an ultrasound, display the sonogram, and describe the fetus to women seeking abortions. Stuart v. Camnitz, 774 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2014).
  • A challenge to North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban. Bryant v. Woodall, 306 F. Supp. 3d 611 (M.D.N.C. 2019).
  • A challenge to South Carolina’s exclusion of Planned Parenthood from Medicaid providers. Planned Parenthood S. Atl. v. Baker, 941 F.3d 687 (4th Cir. 2019).

Most notably, Rikelman argued two notable abortion cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2019, Rikelman argued that the Constitution prohibited a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges in local hospitals. See June Medical Servs. LLC v. Russo, 591 U.S. __ (2020). The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, agreed and reversed a judgment in favor of the state. See id. Two years later, Rikelman argued that the Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade. The Court, however, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, overturned Roe v. Wade. See Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 597 U.S. ___ (2022).


In her role at the Center for Reproductive Rights, Rikelman has frequently spoken out on abortion rights. For example, in 2017, Rikelman was a panelist on a Woman’s Reproductive Rights panel at Rutgers University. See Panel Five: Women’s Reproductive Rights and Health: Beijing+20, 38 Women’s Rights L. Rep. 304 (Spring/Summer 2017). In her remarks, Rikelman criticized abortion restrictions being passed across the country for limiting “access to safe and legal abortion.” See id. at 305.

Rikelman has also frequently commenting in opposition to abortion restrictions in the media and in favor of decisions protecting abortion rights. For example, she praised a decision by Judge B. Lynn Winmill to strike down Idaho’s “fetal pain” bill, noting: “Today’s ruling has overturned a legislative assault by politicians who seek to interfere with [a woman’s] decision and deny women this fundamental right.” See Rebecca Boone, Idaho First State to Have Fetal Pain Law Rejected, A.P. Online, Mar. 8, 2013 (quoting Julie Rikelman). Similarly, Rikelman criticized Mississippi restrictions requiring abortion clinics to have “admission privileges,” stating: “There’s no medical justification; states should not be able to restrict a constitutional right based on pretext.” See Sophie Novack, Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open, National Journal, July 29, 2014 (quoting Julie Rikelman).

Outside the abortion context, Rikelman authored a law review article discussing appellate decisions permitting mandatory blood collection for DNA testing under the Fourth Amendment, arguing that such mandatory collection was prohibited by the Constitution. See Julie Rikelman, Justifying Forcible DNA Testing Schemes Under the Special Needs Exception to the Fourth Amendment: A Dangerous Precedent, 59 Baylor L. Rev. 41 (Winter 2007).

Overall Assessment

Out of all of Biden’s appellate nominees, Rikelman is likely one of the most controversial. This is not necessarily based on concerns about her qualifications, intellect, or temperament. However, Rikelman has spent the last decade working in one of the most contentious legal issues in today’s environment: abortion rights. As such, Rikelman’s nomination will likely turn on whether she can retain support from all fifty Senate Democrats. While she is still (slightly) favored to get confirmed, it is possible that the senate calendar may claim Rikelman’s nomination as a casualty.


  1. Yesssss… Our first out right, openly pro choice advocate nominee. I think she did good at her hearing last week. VP Harris should coordinate with Schumer to schedule a discharge vote then tie breaking vote to get her confirmed.

    Hopefully senator Manchin will vote for her. With her ties to Alaska there’s an outside chance of Murkowski voting for her. If both are a no then we will have to hope the Democrats pick up one seat & confirm her in early January.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I noted earlier, I thought that Rikelman handled her hearing quite poorly (although there was a lot of Republican grandstanding), especially when she was asked about and subsequently lied about writings from law school which demonstrated possible bias in 4th amendment cases. Thus, Rikelman would be the second Biden nominee I would vote no on (with Christine O’Hearn being the first). Considering that Manchin is not a fan of nominees with a pro abortion background, I seriously doubt that Rikelman will be confirmed in this Congress, as contrary to others here I don’t see her attracting any Republican votes to offset that loss. However, if Democrats expand their Senate majority that changes things a lot, and she would likely be confirmed in the next Congress.


  3. Normally I am perfectly fine with Schumer/Durbin process of slow walking many controversial nominees in order to let them fly under the radar and keep the Rs on SJC more or less happy. But in Rikelman’s case I would agree with Dequan and schedule a discharge vote the same day she deadlocks in committee like was done for KBJ. I think it would be good politics to show how serious the party is taking abortion rights and also she’s a good nominee anyway.


      • Durbin will need to Whip his votes better then he ever had before. And certainly Whip the attendance for whatever day they chose to vote for her better then was done for Freeman.

        Honestly besides sickness or death in the family, there’s no reason for any Democrat to miss any days from here until the midterms. They have two Mondays off in addition to next week & the two weeks leading up to the election. The other weeks are your regular 3 day work weeks & all 50 need to be there & do there jobs.


  4. I should add that I suspect an immediate vote will NOT happen and she will probably be confirmed on like Dec 15. I do think Manchin will ultimately vote to confirm. Even though he’s not super friendly to abortion rights causes he fairly strongly condemned the Dobbs decision and has indicated openness to passing legislation to codify Roe.


  5. sinema is an absolute disgrace and a joke, i just hope she doesn’t pull any stunts towards any of biden judicial nominees.. The statement is asinine btw A class nominee, rikelman is a solid choice

    Liked by 2 people

    • WHAT… Is she insane. If she starts any crap when it comes to trying to restore the 60-vote threshold for nominations, I would be full in on her being primaried. As it stands now I am willing to give her a fair chance because she’s voted for 100% of Biden’s nominees & her vote to eliminate the filibuster doesn’t matter right now with Manchin & a 50/50 senate. But if she pulls anything related to this comment she made, she absolutely needs to go without question.

      Liked by 1 person

      • She’s already gone too far me. She will definitely get primaried. Congressman Ruben Gallego will probably run. If he doesn’t run, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (Ruben’s ex-wife) or Tucson Mayor Regina Romero could run. Or Katie Hobbs if god forbid she loses to Kari Lake.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh God no. If Katie Hobbs loses this year, there may not be a free & fair election in Arizona to begin with in 2024. But yes any of those choices you mentioned would be light years better then Sinema. But I will reiterate my biggest fear is her running as an Independent (I believe she use to be a Green Party candidate) should she lose in the primary. Let’s hope to God she isn’t THAT bad to do that.
        On another note, has anybody seen any recent polling from Utah? I really hope McMullin can put Mike Lee out of the senate. While I’m not sure he would stick to his promise not to caucus with either the Dems Or GOP, either way he is vastly an improvement over Lee.


  6. I shudder to think of how few judges/other nominees would be confirmed with a 60 vote threshold. As it stands currently only 4 circuit and 12 district nominees would have passed that bar.


    • And even worse Joe, we would have Chad Meredith & other judges like him in order to get more liberal judges confirmed. It would be atrocious after 4 years of Trump putting 230 judges on the bench for Democrats to even remotely consider either going back on the 60 vote threshold or blue slips for circuit court nominees. This wouldn’t even be an April Fools joke if the roles were reversed.

      Liked by 2 people

      • There is no way Trump should be able to have 4 years to put 230 judges on the bench with 50 votes & now all of a something we care about unity. Screw that, unity got Roe v Wade overturned. I want young, liberal judges put on the bench by Biden. If they get confirmed with 51 votes, I’ll be just as happy as 100 – 0.

        On another note, look at how much times have changed in just a little over two decades. GW Bush who didn’t even win the popular vote got his first 12 circuit court judges confirmed with only ONE no vote out of all 12 of them. Think about that. 11 of his first 12 circuit court judges were confirmed without opposition & the other had just no ONE no vote.


      • We can go back throughout history & see both sides have their hands dirty. Republicans blocked LBJ’s chief justice from getting a vote & Nixon was able to fil the seat. Republican’s blocked many of Clinton’s nominees (Including Kagan to the DC circuit) in his last two years & GW Bush was able to fill many of those seats.

        Democrats in turn begin to filibuster many of GW Bush’s nominees (I didn’t agree with blocking Miguel Estrada). Then Republican’s escalated it under Obama. Then Democrats ended the filibuster for lower court nominees. Then Republicans eliminated the filibuster for SCOTUS. They also eliminated blue slips for circuit court nominees.

        But to me nothing tops McConnell’s b.s. blockade of Garland even getting a vote because it was too close to an election, then 4 years later confirming ACB 8 days before the election is unforgivable. We will be paying for those two seats for a generation. So no, I don’t support going back to how things use to be as if two of the nine SCOTUS seats were not stolen.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately in a 50/50 senate we have to take the words of any senator in the majority seriously. We theoretically have 50 senate majority leaders right now. Hopefully that situation will be rectified come this November.

      Dems really need to flip Pennsylvania then get a surprise victory in either Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina or Florida. 2 of those 4 would be great.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think Wisconsin would be a surprise at all. It’s a 50/50 race. Florida isn’t happening, just see no real pathway there for Rubio to lose.

        And no, Sinema isn’t getting her wish of a total restoration of the filibuster. But she should be removed from the Senate in 2024.


      • While I don’t expect Rubio to lose, I can’t say there is no pathway post Dobbs. With the recent immigration flights, hardline on LGBT & other issues here in Florida, I can see Demmings over performing. I agree she will likely lose but I no longer agree today (As I did previously) that there is no oath whatsoever.


      • @Dequan

        I disagree. The only pathway that Demings has is for Rubio to make a major mistake (or a Cal Cunningham scandal). Even post Dobbs, I just can’t see Demings getting even Gillum 2018 numbers among South Florida Hispanics against Rubio.
        Without winning Dade County by 20, I don’t see a path to win the state for Demings. I hope I am wrong, but I just don’t see it. The best case scenario is a 2% loss.

        The bogus immigration flights however could result in a shocking upset loss for DeSantis however. I can see a situation where S FL Hispanics voting Rubio and Crist (or Rubio and blank).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was actually including losses in the Hispanic vote for Demmings. Although I don’t concede DeSantis cruel treatment with immigrants & Rubio sitting silently by won’t hurt Marco at all with progressive or pro immigrant Hispanics that may have voted for him in his past two elections.

        My analysis comes from a couple of moths areas. I think Demmings will outperform Gillum in woman, college excavated & overall White vote. Plus I think you will see an increase in both youth & LGBT voters.

        Now will that be enough to put her over the top? I certainly am not saying it will. I’m just saying that I no longer agree that she has no oath, which I did agree with not so long ago.


      • @Dequan

        I’m skeptical that Demings does any better than Biden numbers among S FL Hispanics. That’s how popular Rubio is down there. In 2016, Rubio lost Dade by 11% while Trump was losing by 30%. I expect Rubio to lose by about 10% in Dade at worst. And I can’t see where she makes up those votes. I can’t see her cutting into massive GOP margins in the Villages or in the Gulf counties. (Crist though might do so a little bit). There aren’t enough votes in the big metro centers without improving among Hispanic voters.
        I think Demings will do marginally better than Biden among white voters. But not by enough to win, even with Dobbs. Florida has too many older voters who don’t care about Dobbs, even if they disagree with it.


      • I looked back & see my comments I wrote on the last post last week didn’t post. I guess the links to the websites didn’t let it go through. I’m still not sure why that is the case on this site.

        I won’t go into detail with everything I wrote but the basis was I revisited our past conversations as to who was at fault for the long delays for filling the Massachusetts seats.

        Now that we got two nominees questionnaires in I went & looked at the time line for each. One of the nominees took 7 months from their initial application until their names were forwarded to The White House & 8 months for Biden to announce them. The second nominee took over a year between initial application & their name being forwarded & Biden took only 3 months to nominate them. So the delay seemed to be shared in the average.


  7. Julie Rikelman may be the most controversial nominee of the Biden Presidency. She’s certainly the most controversial judicial nominee.

    According to Republicans, Rikelman not a lawyer who supports abortion rights, but a rabid, abortion worshipping fanatic. I’m surprised she was nominated.

    Shouldn’t Democrats concentrate on confirming nominees already voted out of committee and the ones who’ll be most easily confirmed?


      • @Frank

        That’s absolutely untrue. Given the kind of poll numbers we are seeing against Dobbs (which are probably an underestimate of how disliked that decision was), and the results in Kansas (which I completely expected, I was predicting a 15% defeat for the referendum) it is highly unlikely that being pro-choice is “extremely unpopular” in the suburbs of any metro outside the Deep South. Not even conservative ones like Jacksonville or OKC.


      • It’s easy to be against something when you know you still have the right. But once the right is taken away, the reality hits you in the face. When some of these conservative woman start to get pregnant or see their daughters, family members or friends get pregnant & realize they no longer have the right to make decisions as to what to do with their own bodies, I expect the numbers to get even better for the pro life movement. Especially as Republicans continue to over reach.

        If I were the Democrat leadership, I would pay somebody to follow senator Graham around with a megaphone. Every time he even mentions the word abortion & talks about his nationwide ban, they should put the megaphone in front of his mouth.


  8. @Dequan, how would you feel about Immigration Judges being “elevated” to District Court judgeships? Part of me things they are inherently not progressive, but then another part of me feels that the reason they rule against many immigrants is that they have a huge backlog that is no fault of their own.


    • I am not well versed in the pool of immigration judges. I would say I am sure that there are some that are progressive. If one applies & has a pretty decent record on the bench, combined with some progressive background prior to the bench & is young, I would say they deserve some consideration. If any of those three items is missing from their background, I would pass.

      There are far too many young progressives in each of the border states to compromise on circuit court seats. Now if we are talking about district court seats in red or purple states, I would be ok with an immigration judge as part of a package deal as long as they are in the mold of Steven Locher or John Frank Murphy. I think both of them represent what compromise picks should look like. If they are too conservative, I would rather leave the seat vacant.


    • I would imagine so. If non judges can be rated qualified, I can’t imagine somebody who is currently a judge not being rated qualified, even though immigration judges aren’t your usual path.

      I can’t remember in every case under Trump (I think there were ten if I’m not mistaking), but most of his “Not qualified” ABA ratings were due to not having 12 years of legal experience out of law school. I think a couple were due to their temperament. I think those are the type of things, in addition to being too political would make somebody not qualified.


  9. On another note, just in from Axios, when expressing her support for keeping the filibuster and restoring the 60 vote threshold for judicial nominees, Sinema supposedly said “Those of you who are parents in the room know, the best thing you can do for your child is not give them everything they want”. Dang. Very condescending.


  10. Outstanding pick at a time where women and LGBT people are in more danger than we have seen in decades. Where women are being denied care for ectopic pregnancies and are nearly bleeding to death. Where girls are being raped and forced to travel out of state. Where women are being forced to give birth to babies without skulls and are being forced to carry babies they know are already dead before delivery. None of which is hypothetical because that’s all happened since the fall of Roe and all of which is evil.

    According to Republicans though, babies are being born and then aborted immediately after birth. That’s actually not happening though, which is why you just have to ignore all of what Republicans say. I won’t even say what they think LGBT people spend their time doing.

    It’s beyond disturbing and disgusting that a so called Democratic poster on here would vote against Rikelman. But it says a lot about how we sadly got to this point. And why SCOTUS is just getting started at taking away our rights, specially women and LGBT people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some of these vacancies in states with two GOP Senators can’t stay vacant forever. For Idaho and South Dakota, names have been circulating a while, as have some for the Southern District of Florida (which is a judicial emergency). If Biden can find a compromise nominee with Grassley and Ernst, I don’t know what’s taking so long with Risch, Crapo, Thune, and Rounds (who aren’t necessarily more right-wing than the Iowa Senators). I do understand that Rick Scott and Rubio wouldn’t want to make a deal with Biden due to their long-term political ambitions. For the Texas vacancies, negotiating with Cruz is definitely a lost cause, but the WDTX seat (vacant since the death of Philip Martinez) is a judicial emergency, likely due to how many immigration cases go through that court.


      • I agree. Particularly in the case if Idaho as they worked well with Obama to find a nominee. And when McConnell didn’t give him him a vote, instead of recommending a younger, more conservative nominee, they stayed with the same mainstream nominee who was near 60.

        As for Florida where I live, I believe all of the names I’ve seen recommended were from congresswoman Wasserman-Shultz. The only name I remember from the senators was the same nephew of the mega Republican donor that Rubio tried to get Trump to nominate. I think anything short of Demmings winning means Durbin will have to get rid of blue slips to get those seats filled.


  11. It will be fascinating to see how that process plays out (if Democrats control the senate of course). I imagine Biden and company will be open to making deals as long as they are reasonable, but perhaps it will be more complicated.


  12. Well, says there could be roll call votes Wed…Now, the optimist in me says discharge votes, but the realist in me says it will be amendment type votes


  13. I thought Schumer was keeping senate in longer?

    “SENATE STICKING AROUND— The Senate won’t be scrapping their planned sessions in the first two weeks of October, as many lawmakers (and your Huddle host) thought they might. Often Senators use the bulk of October to campaign in their home states ahead of the midterms, but Schumer is betting that voters will appreciate seeing the Senate at work.”


    Liked by 1 person

    • The original plan was to recess the two weeks before the election plus the Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday of election week. There was talk the senate would also recess the first two weeks in October. That is what Schumer was referring to, the senate will be in session the first two weeks of October.


  14. Pingback: The Unexpected Opportunity – Assessing the Landscape of Judicial Vacancies | The Vetting Room

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