Araceli Martinez-Olguin – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

Civil rights attorney Araceli Martinez-Olguin is the first non-judge that Biden has tapped for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.


Born in 1977 in Mexico City, Mexico, Martinez-Olguin attended Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley Law School. After graduating, Martinez-Olguin spent two years clerking for Judge David Briones on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. She then joined the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU), working in the Women’s Rights Project based in New York City.

Martinez-Olguin then moved to San Francisco to become a staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work. After three years there, Martinez-Olguin returned to New York to work at the ACLU, this time with the Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Martinez-Olguin then spent a year apiece at the Office of Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of Education and as managing director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto before joining the National Immigration Law Center, where she works as Supervising Attorney.

History of the Seat

Martinez-Olguin has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, to a seat vacated on February 1, 2021, by Judge Jeffrey White.

In March 2021, Martinez-Olguin applied and interviewed for a federal judgeship with selection committees set up by California’s Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. In January 2022, Martinez-Olguin interviewed with the White House and was selected as a nominee in August 2022. Martinez-Olguin was nominated on August 1, 2022.

Legal Experience

While Martinez-Olguin has spent her career among many different organizations, her role in all of them has been fairly consistent, as a civil rights lawyer.

Martinez-Olguin started her career working on women’s rights. Notably, she represented Jessica Lenahan, who sued in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, noting that the failure of law enforcement to enforce a domestic violence protective order against her abusive husband (who ended up abducting and murdering her daughters) violated her human rights. See Joy Resmovits, Columbia U. Law School Defends Human Rights, University Wire, Mar. 26, 2008. Subsequently, at the Legal Aid Society, Martinez-Olguin worked on employment law, representing Hani Khan, who sued Abercrombie & Fitch, alleging that she was not hired because she wore a hijab. See Jason Dearen, Muslim Woman Sues Abercrombie & Fitch, Says Company Fired Her For Refusing to Remove Headscarf; Muslim Woman Sued Abercrombie & Fitch Over Hijab, Canadian Press, June 27, 2011.

As her career moved on, Martinez-Olguin primarily worked on immigrants’ rights. Notably, she represented a class of Latino workers at a meatpacking plant who alleged that federal agents targeted them during a 2018 raid of the plant. See Jennifer Doherty, Too Late to Add IRS Agents to ICE Raid Suit, Feds Say, Law360, Dec. 1, 2021. The suit is ongoing.

Writings and Statements

In her role as an attorney, Martinez-Olguin has frequently given media statements in relation to her legal activities. See, e.g., Joy Resmovits, Columbia U. Law School Defends Human Rights, University Wire, Mar. 26, 2008 (quoting Araceli Martinez-Olguin) (“Jessica Lenahan was forced to turn to an international body because the U.S. justice system failed to provide her with even a bare modicum of justice.”). On one occasion, Martinez-Olguin described school districts who required teachers with accents to undergo speech improvements as “discrimination.” See Marc Lacey, In Arizona, Complaints that an Accent Can Hinder a Teacher’s Career, N.Y. Times, sept. 25, 2011.

As a law student, Martinez-Olguin described the distinction between law and policy in judicial rulings, noting:

“…I was later also shocked by the way the judges distanced themselves from the ability to influence public policy. At the time, the line the judges drew between themselves and Congress made sense to me. After all, I’d spent the entire first semester learning about the formalistic way in which the law is created. Yet more time in law school and reflection about the trip has made me skeptical about questions of policy and politics not entering the mix when judges rule.” See Araceli Martinez-Olguin, Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence on the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation: Student Reflections on Grutter v. Bollinger: Redefining Moment, 13 La Raza L.J. 109 (Spring 2002).

Overall Assessment

Unlike the other sitting judges that California senators have recommended for the federal bench, Martinez-Olguin brings a different perspective as a nominee. That being said, her nomination is nonetheless likely to be extremely controversial. Martinez-Olguin will draw opposition not only due to her work as a civil rights attorney but because, as a law student, she herself advocated for blurring the distinction between law and policy, allowing opponents to argue that she sees herself as an advocate, even when she is on the bench.

That being said, if Democrats remain united, they should be able to discharge Martinez-Olguin and confirm her by the end of the year.


  1. This is a stellar nominee & probably my second favorite California nominee from Biden so far after Holly Thomas. And only the second non sitting judge to be nominated from the state under Biden after Robert Huie. We need the remaining nominees from the state to be closer to this. I’m happy despite Durbin falling behind on SJC hearings, she has already received hers. That should put her on the path to confirmation before the end of the year regardless of the midterm results.


  2. Not a big fan of her law school comments, but I’m willing to bet that she’s grown up since and realized how ludicrous they sound. A solid nominee by Biden and nice to see another candidate from a uncommon background.


  3. Interesting news. New seat opened for ND of Illinois. Opportunity for some of your favorite Chicago area lawyers and judges. Future prospect obviously depends on senate control at this date but should be good nonetheless.


    • Biden will most likely pick somebody from the same list he picked the last two nominees from. Particularly since they all should have been looked over already so the process should be expedited. Hopefully this time he picks Karen Sheley. She has the most progressive background out of all the remaking nominees that weren’t picked.


      • Ditto. @Dequan.

        To others who may not remember, besides Sheley, Lindsay Jenkins, and Nancy Maldonado, the other names on the list given to Biden by Duckworth and Durbin are:
        -Jeffrey Cummings (1962), a Magistrate Judge. Black man. Way too old for a blue state, but given his background as a former board member of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, he would’ve been a decent pick 10 years ago.
        -Jeremy Daniel (1978), Deputy Chief, Narcotics & Money Laundering at United States Attorney’s​ Office (NDIL). Also a black man (, but absolutely nothing progressive about him
        -Nicholas Gowen (1978), Partner, Burke, Warren, MacKay, & Serritella, P.C. Yet another black man. May have a tad bit more progressivism than Daniel, as he is a board member of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, yet still nothing more than a C+ in my book for a blue state.
        -LaShonda Hunt (1970), a Bankruptcy Judge and a black woman. As a former federal prosecutor who also served as Chief Legal Counsel of the Illinois Department of Corrections, nothing progressive in her background either.


      • Looks like Ronald Reagan appointee Charles Ronald Norgle Sr. went senior status two days ago. So in addition to Robert Michael Dow Jr., the Northern district of Illinois will have two vacancies to fill. Hopefully Biden selects Karen Sheley & one of the younger, moderate black men.


      • WOW… Very interesting info. Hopefully David Hurd will realize he is making a mockery of his legacy & leaves the bench soon as well. Jorge Rodriguez deserves better.

        I’m happy Durbin sent Biden a long enough list to cover 4 vacancies. At first it didn’t look like there would be more than one. But with John Lee’s unexpected elevation, another judge being picked by the chief Justice for his counsel & now this unexpected retirement, Biden now has an opportunity to put his stamp on the district. Unlike when Obama was president, there’s no Republican senator so we shouldn’t have any conservatives put on the bench by this Democrat. I just wish more if the nominees were more progressive but happy to see there will be diversity added to the district.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is unfair to Cummings, who was a plaintiff’s civil rights lawyer. I think Cummings and Sheley are the most progressive picks, but if Biden doesn’t want to pick one of them for some reason, Daniel is very young and looks very conventionally impressive (top 3% of his class at Loyola, federal clerk for a well-regarded judge, Katten, AUSA).


  4. The job of the judicial branch of government is to interpret and uphold the law within the confines of the constitution. A candidate who doesn’t understand the US constitution and separation of powers should not be a judge, I’m sorry. Then we are looking at repeated appeals because this is basic.

    No, judges do not make law. An appointment can’t be voted out, either. I can’t help but wonder if this political appointment is to intentionally undermine our laws. Or perhaps coming from Mexico City she never actually learned this important distinction?

    As a CA resident this appointment disturbs me greatly.


  5. A candidate who does not understand The clear separation of powers in the constitution should not be a judge. This is an appointment for a purpose not a political appointment.

    Because these appointments are for life being in California, I cannot afford to have somebody who doesn’t understand the constitution. Our legislature is constant and non-stop in unconstitutional legislation.

    Also CA is not actually a “blue” state. It has a few large “blue” cities. But the majority of the state is agricultural rural and red. Therefore someone who’s balanced and understands their boundaries must be on the bench -otherwise they’re going to be constantly appealed wasting judicial resources and potentially harming people’s lives.

    We already have some terrible appointments here who in actuality, once they get on the bench, are awful judges. Clear boundaries and understanding the job are essential.


    • What about Martinez-Olguin makes you feel she does not understand the constitution, separations of power or that she will make law on the bench? From everything I’ve read about her she seems to be an accomplished lawyer. And her coming from another country, starting with nothing makes her that much more capable than somebody that started farther along with more in my opinion.

      And California voted for governor Newsome with 59% of the vote, voted for him again with 59% of the vote in a recall, has two Democrat senators & a super Democrat majority in the state legislature. The numbers don’t agree with the statement California is not a blue state. Of course there are Republican areas in the state just like Texas had plenty of Democrat areas. But you can pick & choose this area & that area to justify a state is not a blue state with the numbers I just stated.


      • @Dequan don’t waste your time with this “person” – it is at best a troll with no grasp on reality or intelligent thought, but a firm grasp on racism.

        California being a red state because there are rural areas inland where nobody lives? I know the right has trouble with facts, but even Republicans understand that people vote, not land.

        And judges not making law? That’s news to Mitch McConnell’s little lapdogs Alito, Thomas, and Barrett – the true “terrible appointments” on the courts (the only part of this poster’s drivel that I agree with), who all happen to be born right in the old US of A. Judges making law is the entire point of Fed Soc.

        Now that I’ve addressed that poster’s BS, I am concerned that Ms. Martinez-Olguin will get confirmed if the Dems lose the Senate in November. I imagine she will need to be discharged. If Graham was a no on Hernan Vera, I imagine he’ll be a no on her as well (though he did vote for Nusrat Choudhury in the SJC vote, which I found surprising). If yes, I’m worried they won’t get around to actually discharging + confirming her given how many other nominees are ahead of her. I’m hoping Padilla really pushes hard for her, as I bet she was his pick (Feinstein is too traditional, too conservative, and honestly too senile to have picked her).

        After the COA nominees, the Dems should really prioritize getting the younger/progressive district court nominees confirmed ahead of the traditional/centrist ones (I’m thinking the PR nominees, Toomey’s EDPA pick, and the other CA nominees that are sitting judges) that at least have a chance of getting confirmed under a Republican Senate.


      • @Hank

        Good point. No reason to debate when the points being made don’t have any factual backing whatsoever.

        As for your point, if the Democrats lost the senate (God forbid), Schumer absolutely has to keep the caucus in check & confirm every nominee that has been voted on in the SJC. I would expect some 4 & even 5-day work weeks if that scenario plays out.

        I definitely believe all district court nominees will get confirmed (Unless Manchin votes no on one of course) since they can knock out 6 or more in just one day from scratch. And that’s not even factoring in a December 17, 2021 type agreement or voting for cloture on multiple nominees on a Thursday & confirmation vote on the following Monday. The circuit court nominees I was a little concerned about, but if they continue with the 18 hour or so average, I’m confident they will all get confirmed too as well.

        But let’s just pray Dems flip Pennsylvania & then one of either Ohio, North Carolina, Florida or Wisconsin. And that doesn’t even take into account a possible McMullin upset in Utah. That scenario pretty much clinches at worst a 50/50 senate.


      • I’m not particularly worried about any of the district judges that have already been voted out of committee/discharged. It’s just a matter of when and at worst they’ll be confirmed in another marathon session in December.

        One thing worth keeping an eye on for the dead period is there’s a very good chance Warnock has to run in runoff election on Dec 6, so he may not be in the senate much at all. The more controversial nominees like Abudu, Bloomekatz, Ho, Kato, Rikelman would likely all have to wait for after that


    • Agree 100% with your first two paragraphs here and with some of your other post, but as I noted above I feel like Martinez-Olguin has a better understanding now that she can’t be an advocate on the bench as she is older and has had many experiences in the ‘real’ legal world (unlike the bubble that is often law school). However, it is simply ludicrous to say that California isn’t a blue state based on land alone, and even if that is true (which it isn’t) it plays no factor into this nomination, IMO.


  6. In another topic, Chief Justice Max Baer of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has passed away. He was very close to the mandatory retirement age. The governor can nominated a candidate, but it takes a 2/3 majority of the Pennsylvania state Senate to confirm him or her.

    The interim Chief Justice is Debra Todd, who’s a Democrat but who has ruled with the outnumbered Republicans sometimes.


  7. Ben Sasse is leaving the senate this December. I wonder if that might impact some votes during the dead period. It certainly would be a big help if the GOP was down a man, even if only temporary.


    • I actually don’t think that’s a horrible thing. Republicans have been screwing for years there’s a double standard. The reality is there isn’t. Biden didn’t fire the U.S. Attorney in Delaware when he took office so the Trump holdover is actually investigating Hunter. If he did something wrong he should be held accountable but if not, hopefully this puts to rest there’s any double standard.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Who will control the Senate next year? It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Everyone is talking about Herschel Walker and the Daily Beast article. It could either blow him out of the water or create a sympathetic backlash. Depends on whether it’s accurate.

    The Senate will be likely be decided in five states- Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Of course, there may be an upset brewing somewhere.

    Georgia a big break for Democrats right now, but the Senate races in Nevada and Wisconsin are no better than even for them. Pennsylvania seemed like a likely pickup, but it’s tightened a lot. Republicans seem to be breathing easier in North Carolina.


    • @Mitch

      Thankfully New Hampshire looks a lot better for Democrats right now. Georgia leans Warnock but the runoff situation always scares me there because if control for the senate hinges on that one race, all bets are off in December.

      Nevada really worries me. I think between GA & NV Democrats need to brace for one loss out of those two states.

      So that takes us to pick up opportunities in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin & Ohio. I think there’s a good chance of Democrats flipping one of those & a strong possibility of two out of those three.

      Outside of those, there are some upset opportunities & I think all of those are Republican held seats. The two upset states talked about the most are Florida & North Carolina. I would throw Utah into that category. If Democrats can pull off a monumental upset in one of those three states then that clinches a net gain. I still say one is possible with Utah being at the top of my list out of the three. I did see a couple polls that showed North Carolina was close but I’ve had my heart broken too many times by that state so I’ll believe it when I see it. Although I don’t think Beasley will have a problem keeping her pants on like Cal Cunningham couldn’t do.

      On another note, I saw a concerning poll out of Oregon for the governors race. Looks like the Republican is within one point. With Democrat gains almost certain in Massachusetts & Maryland, it would be a shame to lose Oregon which would put us back to square one when Biden took office after losing Virginia last year.


    • I’m much less optimistic than Dequan and think Democrats will lose the Senate, but I certainly hope I’m wrong – given how often Democrats have underperformed polls since Trump came along for me, I think it’s silly to be basing expectations on polling. Even if I were to believe in the polls, this year is starting to look a lot like 2014 (when the Dems were polling OK in the summer and then everything went to hell in October). My biggest concerns are:

      1. Nevada – this seems the most likely to flip since Dems have been losing ground among Latinos (with the caveat that NV Latinos are mostly Mexican-Americans who arrived more recently, unlike the Tejanos in TX and the Cubans/South Americans in FL). Nevada’s been consistently close in elections, and it actually trended Republican from 2016 to 2020. Cortez Masto is also pretty low profile, which I don’t think helps when Dems need to be energized to vote this year.

      2. Georgia – also hoping that a miracle happens and Warnock wins without a runoff, but I don’t think the secret abortion thing will ultimately change as much as people seem to think right now (hoping I’m wrong though). If it goes to a runoff, I truly don’t know what to think. The fact that Warnock won the last runoff gives me hope, but with the narrow margin + Republicans’ voter suppression laws since then, I don’t think it would be a shocker if Walker wins despite the bad press he’s getting.

      3. Pennsylvania – hoping to god that Fetterman pulls this out, but there was never any reason to believe the polls showing him far ahead of Oz. It’s a red year (or at best neutral) and Pennsylvania has been more Republican than the country since 2016. If Trump can win in PA, then we can’t write Oz off.

      4. Arizona – people forget that Kelly underperformed his polls in 2020 and only won by like 2%. I don’t trust his current big polling leads for that reason, but (and maybe this is hopeful thinking) Blake Masters seems crazier than Martha McSally. Arizona still leans more Republican than the country overall though, so I think Dems are overconfident here.

      I don’t think any of the other seats are realistically going to flip – maybe Hassan underperforms in NH because Dems are overconfident (hopefully not) or WI finally realizes that Johnson is insane (wouldn’t hold my breath). I’m definitely bracing myself for a Republican Senate next year though, and Senate Dems should be doing the same. Here’s hoping I’ll be pleasantly surprised on November 8th.

      Liked by 2 people

      • @Hank
        I agree with you. This is exactly what I think and have been saying.
        I don’t do polls (a lot here say that then do the exact opposite in the next sentence), I do elections fundamentals. Nothing in the models prepossess me with the level of confidence I often read on here.
        Candidate quality should have put Georgia out of play this cycle, yet we are sweating over it going to a run off, something that happens only about 25% of the time.
        Kemp is running away with his reelection. If we admit that, we also have to assume that many of Kemp’s voters will vote to split their ticket for Warnock. Not a very likely pair, to say the least.
        Then you have the really far reaches like Beasley in NC and less (but not terribly more so) Ryan in Ohio. Dems had their best two months of the year behind them. With OPEC’s recent cuts and still raging inflation, it’s only going to get tougher.
        I remember 2014, which was like a personal lost for me because I worked campaigns that year. I also remember how the polls overestimated Dem votes in two of the last three elections.
        Again, I envy you your abiding optimism.


      • I think possibly more likely than you think. Biden won by 0.24%, while Perdue was ahead by 1.78% the first time. Then, in January, Warnock won by 2.08% while Ossoff won by 1.22%. I think that some of the Biden-Perdue/Perdue-Warnock voters may vote Kemp-Warnock in November. The small % of voters who caused the runoff to happen may vote Kemp & neither Warnock nor Walker (and thus cause another runoff).

        I don’t think Beasley or Ryan will win, though I think they could make it close and force the GOP to move money towards Budd & Vance. Ohio seems to still be moving rightward so it will be difficult for Tim Ryan. Honestly I have no clue which way North Carolina’s moving since it seems to be stuck in perpetual GOP-ekes-it-out.


      • @Hank

        I’m kind of like you, I think the polls are too “friendly” towards Democrats, or in other words, they underestimate the Dark Side.

        Nevada- I agree that this state is moving towards R’s, Biden got basically the exact same margin as Hillary, while overall 2020 was a bluer year than 2016 in terms of the presidential election (I think on average Biden did about 5% better than Hillary in each state). Cortez Masto won by about 2.39% in 2016. However, someone pointed out that Dem Senate candidates over performed compared to polls in both 2016 and 2018, so Cortez Masto could over perform and thus win, since the polls are basically even. I have no prediction here

        Georgia- I agree it’s likely to go to a runoff. I honestly don’t know whether a runoff would help Warnock or Walker. As long as Trump doesn’t visit Georgia during the runoffs & spew his election lies, I don’t think Dems will have the advantage of low GOP voter turnout. Other than that it’s going to go to a runoff, I have no prediction here

        Pennsylvania- I still think Fetterman will win. He’s making inroads with rural voters campaigning in his hoodie and shorts (as someone on twitter pointed out, it certainly helps that Fetterman is a white male given he needs to appeal to rural voters). I predict D flip
        *Oz does seem to have surpassed Doug Mastriano, the latter whom is not walking back his extreme positions and also openly admitting he won’t certify the presidential election if the D wins (spoiler alert: while most Republicans, including Oz & Trump, are taking these extreme positions for political gain, I think Mastriano genuinely believes in them).

        Arizona- I think Kelly is a strong candidate and certainly the favorite. Blake Masters is trying to delete his extreme rhetoric from his website but a lot of people already know how extreme he is. Unlike most Senate Dem candidates, Kelly OUTPERFORMED Biden by nearly 2%; he won with 2.35% of the vote while Biden won by 0.3%. Additionally, being an astronaut and a moderate gives Kelly extra appeal. I predict D hold

        Regarding NH and WI, I think that incumbents will hold both seats. NH strongly favors abortion rights & its GOP is much more libertarian than most GOPs. WI is extremely polarized and some article explained Johnson may have calculated that in WI it’s better to look more extreme since so many are far to one side or the other (3 of the 7 justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court would have taken actions that are too extreme for even the U.S. Supreme Court).

        I think Dems have a possibility of winning NC or OH but both of those definitely have a R advantage.


  9. I’m actually fairly optimistic regarding Pennsylvania. Sure Oz has narrowed in the polls but going from the low 40s to mid 40s with very high name recommendation at this stage of the campaign is no accomplishment. This is just some very reluctant Rs coming home.

    I’m much more worried about Georgia and Nevada.

    I think Wisconsin could be a possible flip but I’m not very optimistic at all.

    AZ and NH I feel quite good about. Master and Bolduc are genuinely terrible candidates


    • Yeah, if Dems win PA, AZ, & NH, they just need 1 of GA or NV to win. If you consider them pure 50-50’s and independent of each other and make assumptions about the rest, Dems have a 75% chance of keeping the Senate. However, both GA & NV seem to have slight GOP leads (considering poll bias) & I think the GOP has a better chance of winning 1 of PA, AZ, NH than Dems do of winning 1 of WI, OH, NC.


  10. On another note, back to one of my favorite subjects, black men on the circuit courts. While we should have Jabari Wamble in next week’s SJC hearing, judge Jerome Holmes is now the chief judge on the 10th circuit. While I may not agree with his politics, it is nice to see a black man ascend to that position in any circuit.

    I know Roger Gregory is the chief judge of the 4th circuit. Does anybody know what other black men were chief judge of any circuit courts in the past decade or so?


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