Orelia Merchant – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Orelia Merchant currently serves as the Chief Deputy to New York Attorney General Letitia James, a role which has given her scope to participate in much of the office’s key litigation. Merchant has now been nominated for a federal judgeship.

Background

Merchant attended Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans, getting a B.Sc. in 1992. She then got a Master of Arts in marine science from the College of William & Mary in 1995 and then a J.D. from Tulane University Law School in 1998.

Merchant subsequently worked for four years as regional counsel to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and then spent two years as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

In 2002, Merchant became a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. She held this role until she joined the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2019, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Merchant has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This seat opened on January 1, 2022 when Judge William Kuntz took senior status.

Legal Experience

Merchant started her legal advocacy career early, working as a law student to fight plans by a Japanese chemical company to build a plant in Convent, Louisiana, earning the ire of Gov. Mike Foster, who called her and her fellow students “vigilantes” and “outlaws.” See Tulane University Law Students Help Poor People of Convent, Louisiana, Keep Out Another Chemical Plant, CBS News Transcripts, Oct. 19, 1998. After law school, Merchant continued her environmental advocacy, working with the EPA on complaints against Pole Air Corp. for alleged violations of clean air laws from the company’s radio tower. See Epa Cites Pole Zero for Air Pollution, PR Newswire, July 27, 2001.

Merchant subsequently worked as a special assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where she handled civil cases, including employment discrimination. See, e.g., Capers v. Henderson, 153 F. Supp. 2d 846 (E.D. La. 2001).

From 2002 to 2019, Merchant worked as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, working in the Civil Division. Among her time with the office, Merchant was awarded for her work on litigation post-Hurricane Sandy involving FEMA. Other matters she handled for the office included defending civil asset forfeitures in criminal cases. See, e.g., Buculei v. United States, 440 F. Supp. 2d 225 (E.D.N.Y. 2006). Merchant also handled government defense against employment discrimination cases and tort claims. Compare Andretta v. Napolitano, 922 F. Supp. 2d 411 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) to Korotkova v. United States, 990 F. Supp. 2d 324 (E.D.N.Y. 2014).

Since 2019, Merchant has served as Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of New York. In this position, Merchant heads the Division of State Counsel, which includes the Litigation Bureau and the Civil Recoveries Bureau.

Political Activity

Merchant has a handful of political donations to her name, all to Democrats.

Overall Assessment

Having spent the past two and a half decades in litigation, Merchant comes to the federal bench well prepared for its challenges. However, given the limited Senate calendar, Merchant is unlikely to be confirmed before the end of the Congress.

8 Comments

  1. Orelia Merchant

    At 51, she’s quite old (for me) to be starting a career on the bench. But if she’s confirmed and can make a full, long career at the district court level, I’d be ok with that.
    Will her political donations plus her Democrat husband cause her to be labeled as too political?
    Will she be labeled as an environment terrorist? Because of this, what are the odds that Sen. Kennedy will vigorously oppose her nomination in SJC? Or just simply oppose it?
    These would all be frivolous charges, of course, but one cannot be too prepared for Republican disingenuity.

    Post-Midterm/Lame Duck Judicial Confirmation

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/bidens-ability-reshape-u-judiciary-100414335.html

    After Dems lost the 2014 midterms, Republicans tried to blackmail Dems by telling them that the more judges the Dems confirm in the lame duck the more the Republicans would blockade further confirmations in 2015. Unsurprisingly, Dems very nearly fell for this extortion, with Harry Reid moving to adjourn the senate for the year with many of Obama’s nominees left on the table. Thankfully, Ted Cruz, our national liberal hero, came to the rescue! In denying a UC request, Cruz prevented Reid from adjuring the senate. To kill time, Reid labored through multiple judicial nominations, confirming about a dozen district court nominees.

    I give that bit of history to put the upcoming lame duck session in context.
    I hope that in this lame duck, Dems won’t even be tempted to fall for any such blackmail or wheeling and dealing. I really hope that Dems NOW understand that the GOP could not be more untrustworthy when it comes to judicial nomination. I hope that Dems work at breakneck speed to confirm every single named nominee, including those that I hope Biden will name by next week! I don’t care about timelines or regular order or anything else. This will probably be the last senate Dem majority for a little under a decade, if not more (if I were to sound like a hope-burdened person).
    Now, you are going to hear about all the other “important” non-judicial items before the senate and how they must naturally take precedent, even while the senate works a laborious 2.5 to 3 day schedule a week. Well, good luck with that.

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    • While I’ve never been a fan of political nominees such as this (although NJ has been far worse in that regard), Merchant is definitely a qualified nominee and should be confirmed in a bipartisan vote. If it is a lame duck session, the Democrats should make confirming judicial nominees a top priority, without question (along with passing the Electoral Count Act). It seems like most progressives here have given up completely on the Democrats winning the Senate again, particularly after the Fetterman debate and recent polls (many of which I am skeptical of) showing Republicans gaining ground in many Senate battlegrounds, but if the Senate comes down to a Georgia runoff again we may have to wait another month to find out who has the majority. In that case, we may see the Democrats sit back for even more time in a last ditch hope of keeping the current majority, as Warnock will be out for quite a bit campaigning.

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  2. I still feel pretty strongly about Fetterman winning in PA. He’s had a slew of good polls this week from good polsters and Oz’s favorables are pretty bad. Also, Fetterman has a pretty huge early vote lead. Georgia and of course Nevada are the two states that are really scaring me.

    I am curious what the senate schedule will look like the last 5 weeks of the session. With 12 circuit nominees and and potentially 28-32 district nominees I worry about running out of time. Plus not to mention there are the Defense bill, Spending bill, Gay Marriage bill, and Electoral Count Act that they need to get through, and each of those will likely take 2-3 days each.

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    • Merchant’s biggest issue may be the shady family of her husband, Karim Camara. Born Karim Abdur-Razzaq, he changed his name to avoid ties with his father, a chief aide to Malcolm X and his grandfather who was a known communist. Additionally, he and his siblings were born as the result of an affair (their dad was legally married to another woman until she passed away in 2013). Her husband and his family still haven’t settled the probate case of her late father-in-law (deceased since 2014) and Merchant may have used her position to assist her husband and in-laws as they sue the nursing home their mother died in (2020). Her husband’s name isn’t on the deed of the home they live in and Merchant supports her brother-in-law who has a history of violence against women. It’s believed she and her husband are allowing the brother to live in their Brooklyn home as they prepare to sell it.

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  3. Besides the calander, Merchant’s biggest problem could be her ties to Letitia James. Republicans claim that James has used her office for partisan gain and ignored its core responsibilities.

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