Judge Salvador Mendoza – Nominee to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza has served on the Eastern District of Washington since 2014. He has now been tapped for elevation to the Ninth Circuit.

Background

Born November 30, 1971 in Pacoima, California in an immigrant family from Mexico, Mendoza attended the University of Washington and UCLA School of Lawl. After graduating from law school, Mendoza had quick stints with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, and the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, before he started his own practice, staying with the practice while working as a Municipal, Juvenile, and District Court Judge Pro Tempore until 2013.

In 2013, Mendoza was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to be a Superior Court Judge in Franklin County.

In 2014, President Obama appointed Mendoza to replace Judge Lonny Suko on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Mendoza was confirmed 92-4 on June 17, 2014, and has served as a federal judge since.

History of the Seat

Mendoza has been nominated for a Washington seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This seat will open when Judge Margaret McKeown takes senior status upon the confirmation of her successor.

Writings and Statements

While a student at UCLA, Mendoza authored a note that was sharply critical of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. New York, which permitted the striking of bilingual jurors from a criminal jury that was likely to hear testimony in Spanish. See Salvador Mendoza, Jr., When Maria Speaks Spanish: Hernandez, the Ninth Circuit, and the Fallacy of Race Neutrality, 18 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 193 (Fall 1996). In the note, Mendoza is also critical of permitting “race-neutral” justifications for such strikes, arguing that the language of race neutrality allows prosecutors to hide covert biases. See id. at 204. Mendoza argues that, in the context of prejudice and hostility to Spanish speakers, Hernandez “can be seen as a continued attempt to place a badge of inferiority and continue the racial subordination of the Latino community.” Id. at 209.

In a speech given at his investiture when he joined the federal bench, Mendoza highlighted the “guiding principle” of his judicial career as “equal justice under law.” See Kristin M. Kraemer, Sal Mendoza Jr. of Kennewick Becomes First Latino Federal Judge on East Side, Tri-City Herald, Aug. 1, 2014.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Mendoza worked in a variety of positions, but primarily worked as a solo and dual practitioner in state and federal criminal law. Throughout this time, Mendoza tried seventy-seven cases as either sole or co-counsel, including approximately sixty jury trials. Among these trials, Mendoza secured an acquittal for a client charged with conspiracy to distribute meth-amphetamines in federal court. United States v. Cisneros, No. CR-05-206-3-FVS, (E.D. Wash.).

Jurisprudence

In 2013, Mendoza was appointed to the Franklin County and Benton County Superior Court, where he presided over 36 cases to verdict/judgment, including twenty-two jury trials. Notably, Mendoza presided over the ongoing litigation in the Arlene’s Flowers case, which involved a florist who had declined to provide flowers for a same-sex ceremony and was sued for violating civil rights laws. State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers Inc., et al., No. 13-2-00871-5 (Franklin Cnty. Super. Ct.).

Since 2014, Mendoza has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Washington. In this role, Mendoza has handled a number of high profile cases. Most notably, Mendoza presided over the criminal case against James Henrickson, charged with hiring hitmen to murder a business partner and an employee. See Rachel Alexander, MURDER-FOR-HIRE TRIAL MOVED; Judge Cites Publicity in Sending Henrikson Trial to Richland, Spokesman Review, Sept. 18, 2015. The case involved many twists, including Henrikson’s decision to plead guilty and then to withdraw his guilty pleas. See Kip Hill, Henrickson Withdraws Guilty Plea in Murders: Spokane Businessman Was Killed in his South Hill Home, Spokesman Review, Nov. 4, 2015. The case ended with guilty verdicts, after which Mendoza sentenced Henrickson to two life sentences. See Kip Hill, Henrickson Receives Two Life Sentences: Showed No Remorse For Ordering Killings, Spokesman Review, May 25, 2016.

In other matters, Mendoza granted an injunction ordering Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences to accommodate the needs of a deaf student. See Molly Rosbach, Judge Orders PNWU to Accommodate Deaf Student, Yakima Herald-Republic, July 23, 2014. Mendoza also granted a restraining order requiring a local jail to release an inmate granted bail (the inmate was being held pursuant to an immigration hold). See Phil Ferolito, Federal Judge’s Order to Lift Immigration Hold on Yakima Inmate Could Have Nationwide Impact, Tri-City Herald, July 27, 2017.

Overall Assessment

While Mendoza’s first confirmation was widely bipartisan, it is likely that his elevation will attract strong opposition. Setting aside the more partisan attitudes towards confirmation today, Mendoza may attract questions about his injunctions on immigration holds. Additionally, his law school note and his role in the Arlene’s Flowers case, which largely avoided controversy when he was up for a trial court position, may be raised again in his elevation.

Nonetheless, Mendoza remains favored for confirmation, albeit with a significantly reduced margin.

Judge Stephen Locher – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa

Judge Stephen Locher served as a criminal defense attorney and a federal prosecutor for nearly two decades before becoming a federal magistrate judge last year. Now, Locher has been nominated for a lifetime judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa with the support of his home-state Republican senators.

Background

A native Iowan from Mason City, Stephen Henley Locker was born in 1978. Locher received a B.A. magna cum laude from Notre Dame University in 2000 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2003.

After graduating law school, Locher clerked for Judge John Gibson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Locher then spent four years in Chicago at Goldberg Kohn as an Associate before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa in 2008.

In 2013, Locher became a Partner at Belin McCormick P.C. in Des Moines. He maintained that role until 2020 when he was selected as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Iowa, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

The seat Locher has been nominated for opened on March 18,, 2022, with Judge John Jarvey’s retirement. Locher applied to a screening committee formed by Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and was recommended to the White House in February 2022. Locher was formally nominated on April 25, 2022.

Legal Experience

After his clerkship, Locher’ first legal position was as an Associate at Goldberg Kohn P.C. in Chicago. In 2008, Locher was hired to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa. In the office, Locher helped prosecute Rumeal Robinson, a former University of Michigan NCAA player. Robinson was convicted of defrauding a bank through a fraudulent loan and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. See Tom Witosky, Prison Time for U-M Hero, Detroit Free Press, Jan. 8, 2011.

From 2013 to 2020, Locher was a Partner with Belin McCormick, P.C., working alongside Iowa Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott. The pair represented Sholom Rubashkin, the CEO of Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant that had allegedly hired thousands of illegal aliens. See Rubashkin v. United States, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11694 (N.D. Iowa Jan. 26, 2017). Rubashkin’s prosecution drew particular concern due to the participation of Judge Linda Reade (who eventually presided over the case) in a highly controversial raid of the Agriprocessor plant.

Jurisprudence

Locher has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa since 2021. Among the matters he has handled during his short tenure, Locher granted in part a defendant’s motion to amend the conditions of release, allowing him to communicate with his wife on matters unrelated to the case before him. See United States v. Martinez, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179162 (S.D. Iowa Sept. 13, 2021). In another matter, Locher granted in part a plaintiff’s motion to file a third amended complaint in a suit involving life insurance sales. See Meardon v. Register, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13261 (S.D. Iowa Jan. 21, 2022).

Overall Assessment

As a federal magistrate judge with experience both in private practice and as a federal prosecutor, Locher is a relatively uncontroversial choice for the bench. Furthermore, Locher has a powerful champion in Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley. As such, the odds look fairly good for a prompt confirmation for Locher.

Gregory Williams – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware

A fixture of the Delaware legal community, Fox Rothschild partner Gregory Williams is poised for a smooth confirmation to the Delaware federal bench.

Background

Gregory Brian Williams attended the Millersville University of Pennsylvania, getting his B.A. and B.Sc. in 1990. After graduating, Williams served in the Army Reserve until 1992, when he attended and got a J.D. from Villanova University School of Law in 1995.

Williams subsequently joined the Wilmington, Delaware office of Fox Rothschild LLP, becoming a Partner in 2003. Williams is still with the firm.

History of the Seat

Williams has been nominated for a vacancy opened by Judge Leonard Stark’s elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals on the Federal Circuit. Williams was recommended for the seat by Delaware Senators Carper and Coons.

Legal Experience

Williams has spent his entire legal career at the firm of Fox Rothschild, where he focused primarily on intellectual property and commercial law. Among his notable cases at the firm, Williams represented the pharmaceutical company Ethypharm SA France in an antitrust suit against Abbott Laboratories. See Ethypharm SA France v. Abbott Labs., 271 F.R.D. 82 (D. Del. 2010). He was also lead counsel in defending Intervet, Inc. against an infringement suit for porcine circovirus vaccines. See Wyeth LLC v. Intervet, Inc., 771 F. Supp. 2d 334 (D. Del. 2011). Outside of Delaware, Williams defended Megabus in a D.C. suit for racial discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and assault. See Davis v. Megabus Northeast LLC., 301 F.Supp.3d 105 (D.D.C. 2018).

Williams has also handled appellate matters, including arguing before the Delaware Supreme Court in an eminent domain case involving the Delaware Department of Transportation. See Lawson v. State, 72 A.3d 84 (Del. 2013).

Writings and Statements

Outside of his role at Fox Rothschild, Williams has been active in the Delaware legal community, including serving as President of the Delaware State Bar Association and as Chair of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. In his various capacities, Williams has sometimes spoken and written on the law. For example, in 1999, Williams was interviewed as part of an article discussing the effect of Y2K. See The Millenium Bug, Journal of Business Strategy (1998). He also spoke in favor of electronic filing in Delaware federal courts. See Sean O’Sullivan, U.S. District Court Starts Electronic Filing; Legal Documents Will Be Available on Web, The News Journal, Mar. 6, 2005.

Overall Assessment

While many of Biden’s judicial nominees have attracted strong GOP opposition, Williams is likely to face a relatively uncontroversial confirmation. With a background in commercial and patent litigation, and a paucity of controversial statements, Williams should expect a confirmation within the next three months.

Nancy Maldonado – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Employment attorney Nancy Maldonado clerked for Judge Ruben Castillo, the first Hispanic judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Maldonado is now poised to become the first Hispanic woman on the Northern District.

Background

Born on November 28, 1975, Maldonado attended Harvard College, graduating cum laude in 1997. She then attended the Columbia Law School, graduating in 2001.

After graduating, Maldonado clerked for Judge Ruben Castillo on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After finishing up her clerkship, Maldonado joined the Chicago Office of Miner, Barnhill, & Garland as an Associate. She became a Partner at the firm in 2010 and currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

Maldonado has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. This seat opened on October 7, 2021, when Judge Matthew Kennelly moved to senior status.

In December 2021, Maldonado was one of seven candidates recommended for the Northern District of Illinois by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth. See Jeremy Gorner, Former ACLU Attorney Among 7 Recommended for Federal Bench; Senators Send Names to Biden to Fill Judicial Vacancy, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 22, 2021. Maldonado’s nomination was announced on April 13, 2022.

Legal Experience

Maldonado has spent her entire legal career at Miner, Barnhill, & Garland, where she primarily focuses on employment litigation, representing both plaintiffs and defendants. Notably, Maldonado represented Dilan Abreu, a bricklayer who sued over workplace harassment over his race at the Chicago Department of Water Management. See Ray Long and Hal Dardick, Latino Worker Alleges Abuse in Water Department; Says Boss Tried to Throw Him in a Hole, Called Him ‘dumb Puerto Rican’, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 29, 2019. Abreu notably alleged that his boss retaliated against him for objecting to racist behavior by trying to push him into a 6-foot deep hole. See id.

Maldonado was also part of the legal team for Maura Anne Stuart, a commercial driver whose gender discrimination suit was thrown out by Judge Milton Shadur. See Stuart v. Local 727, Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 771 F.3d 1014 (7th Cir. 2014). Maldonado persuaded a panel of the Seventh Circuit to reverse the dismissal (the panel also reassigned the case, citing the “tone of derision” in Judge Shadur’s opinion). See id. at 1020.

In non-employment related matters, Maldonado was part of the legal team filing an amicus brief from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in an Illinois state court suit challenging the Cook County Assault Weapons Ban under the Second Amendment. See Wilson v. Cnty. of Cook, 968 N.E.2d 641 (Ill. 2012). She also represented citizens in a 1983 suit against officials who allegedly barred citizens from expressing opposition to a local towing ordinance. See Surita v. Hyde, 665 F.3d 860 (7th Cir. 2011).

Political Activity & Memberships

Maldonado has made a number of political contributions in the last few years, including to President Obama, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Colin Allred.

Additionally, Maldonado is active in the Chicago legal community, serving on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and of La Casa Norte, a social service organization serving Chicago youth.

Overall Assessment

As a nominee, Nancy Maldonado falls within the mainstream of Illinois district court nominees confirmed to the bench in the last decade. While her experience is largely focused on employment litigation, Maldonado has extensive experience in both state and federal court, and, given the support of Senate Judiciary Chair Durbin, she is likely to have a fairly swift confirmation.

Judge John Lee – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Judge John Lee has been sitting on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for the last decade. He is now poised for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Background

John Zihun Lee was born in Aachen, Germany on March 30, 1968. Lee attended Harvard College, getting an A.B. in 1989. He continued on to Harvard Law School, getting his J.D. in 1992.

After graduating law school, Lee joined the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1994, Lee moved to Chicago to become an Associate with Mayer Brown. In 1996, Lee moved to Grippo & Elden LLC. In 1999, Lee became an Associate at Freeborn & Peters LLC, where he became a Partner in 2001.

On November 10, 2011, Lee was nominated by President Barack Obama for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois vacated by Judge David Coar. Lee was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on May 7, 2012. He serves as a federal district judge today.

History of the Seat

Lee has been nominated for a Illinois seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This seat opened when Judge Diane Wood indicated her intention to take senior status upon confirmation of a successor.

Legal Career

Lee began his legal career at the Department of Justice, focusing on environmental cases in the Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits. In 1994, he moved to Chicago to join Mayer Brown and has been in private practice since, working primarily on antitrust, employment, and tort cases.

Among the most notable cases he has handled, Lee represented McDonald’s in a trademark and copyright dispute involving a license to produce toys along the Bratz toy line. McDonald’s Corp. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., 03-C-1026 (N.D. Ill.) (Gettleman, J.). Lee also represented defendants in a price fixing lawsuit involving the sulfuric acid industry. In re Sulfuric Acid Antitrust Litig., 03-CV-4576 (N.D. Ill.) (Holderman, J.).

Political Activity

Lee has two political contributions to his name, one to President Obama and one to Durbin, both in the 2008 cycle.

Jurisprudence & Reversals

Lee has served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for the last ten years. Among the notable cases that Lee has presided over, Lee declined to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the closure of 49 Chicago elementary schools, ruling that there was no evidence supporting a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities. See Lauren Fitzpatrick, Case Closed: Ruling Means Schools Won’t Reopen, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 16, 2013. Other notable decisions are summarized below.

Edmonds Sentencings

In 2016, Lee presided over sentencings for Hasan Edmonds and Jonas Edmonds, cousins charged with plotting to attack a National Guard base. See Jon Seidel, Hasan Edmonds Gets 30 Years For Plot On National Guard Base, Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 20, 2016. Lee sentenced Hasan to 30 years in prison, and Jonas to 21 years, stating from the bench that their actions reflected “utter hatred and disdain for this country.” See id.

Stay-at-Home COVID Orders

In 2020, Lee ruled against one of the earliest lawsuits challenging Covid-19 stay-at-home orders under the First Amendment, ruling that the rights of the plaintiff church were not violated given Supreme Court precedent in the Jacobsen and Prince cases. See Ben Pope, U.S. District Judge Rules Pritzker’s Stay-At-Home Order Constitutional, Chicago Sun-Times, May 3, 2020.

Opinions by Designation

In addition to his time as a district court judge, Lee has sat by designation on occasion with the Seventh Circuit. While on the court, Lee has authored a number of opinions, generally unanimous ones. See, e.g., Judson Atkinson Candies Inc. v. Kenray Assocs., 719 F.3d 635 (7th Cir. 2013).

One notable exception was in Henry v. Hulett. In that decision, a 2-1 panel of the Seventh Circuit rejected a civil rights suit brought by inmates in an Illinois prison who were subjected to strip and body cavity searches. See 930 F.3d 836 (7th Cir. 2019). However, in dissent, Lee disagreed with the majority that the strip searches were permissible because the prisoners themselves were required to conduct the body cavity searches. See id. at 839 (Lee, J., dissenting). The Seventh Circuit then took the case en banc and overturned the panel decision, largely agreeing with Lee’s reasoning. See Henry v. Hulett, 969 F.3d 769 (7th Cir. 2020) (en banc).

Reversals

In his time on the bench, Lee has generally seen his rulings affirmed by the Seventh Circuit. However, they have reversed Lee in a handful of cases. For example, in Addison Automatics, Inc. v. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co., 731 F.3d 740 (7th Cir. 2013), the Seventh Circuit reversed Lee’s decision to remand a class action suit to state court. Similarly, the Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment to a union in a breach of duty of fair representation suit. See Rupcich v. UFCW Int’l Union Local 881, 833 F.3d 847 (7th Cir. 2016).

Overall Assessment

Lee comes to the confirmation process with a long judicial paper trail. With this tenure as a federal judge, Lee’s qualifications for the appellate bench are unquestionable.

However, Lee’s rulings upholding Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders are likely to draw particular scrutiny, especially as COVID-19 restrictions are significantly more controversial today. While Lee is still strongly favored for confirmation, his confirmation is unlikely to mirror his unanimous approval in 2012.

Looking Beyond the Supreme Court – the Administration Reaches a Crucial Time on Judges

Barring the unexpected, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to the Supreme Court this week, capping a ten week nomination and confirmation process since Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement in late January. While the Administration would likely take a (deserved) victory lap over Jackson’s confirmation, the most crucial period for securing Biden’s judicial legacy begins after.

While the Biden Administration came into office with comparatively few judicial vacancies to fill, a rash of Democratic appointees moving to senior status has created an opportunity for the Administration to leave a substantial imprint on the lower courts. Jackson’s confirmation will leave 24 lower court nominees left before the Senate, while pales in comparison to the 108 pending judicial vacancies listed on the U.S. Courts website. The situation is even more significant, given that many confirmed vacancies, including those by Third Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro, Ninth Circuit Judges Andew Hurwitz, Margaret McKeown, and Sidney Runyan Thomas, and D.D.C. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, are not public on the site yet. As such, the administration has around 90 vacancies on the federal bench with no nominees pending. Given that, fourteen months into his Presidency, Biden has yet to send 90 judicial nominees to the Senate, the Administration will have to move fast to have any hope of filling a substantial number of these vacancies.

Consider that the Administration has failed to name a single lower court judge to the bench since Judge Stephanie Davis was tapped two months ago. This is likely because the White House is strategically choosing to hold lower court nominations, including those that may be controversial, in order to avoid muddying the waters for Jackson. This means that the Biden Administration’s 82 nominees submitted to the Senate so far are slightly lower than the 98 judges nominated by President Bush and the 87 nominated by President Trump. Biden is particularly behind on circuit court nominations, having nominated 20, while Trump had made 25 as of this point in his Presidency, while President Bush had nominated 31. Even President Obama, rightfully criticized for a slow pace on nominations, had named 18 appellate nominees by April 1 of the second year of his presidency. With the Senate having confirmed 15 judges, only five of the 24 appellate vacancies currently pending have a nominee.

On the confirmation side, the Biden Administration has run far ahead of its immediate predecessors. For example, the Biden Administration has seen 58 judges confirmed so far, and the Trump Administration only saw 29 judges at this point in its Presidency, while the Obama Administration only saw 19. However, both prior Administrations had run behind their predecessors. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, for example, had seen 45-50 judges confirmed by this point in their Presidency, just slightly behind the Biden Administration.

However, on average, a judicial nominee in the Biden Administration has taken 4 months from nomination to confirmation. This means that, in order to be confirmed before the August recess (after which many Democratic senators may be absent campaigning in their home states), nominees need to be sent to the Senate now. Additionally, any nominees sent will likely also run into the limited space in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, which typically occur every two weeks and include 4-6 nominees each. All this makes the next month or two crucial for nominations. Any nominee nominated later than early May may not see confirmation this year.

To be fair, none of this to say that the Biden administration hasn’t had a significant impact on the federal judiciary. One could argue that, given the bare majority they control, Democrats have outperformed expectations. However, the Administration now faces both an opportunity and a ticking clock. Due to a large number of judges moving to senior status, Biden could easily outperform the 30 judges that Trump was able to confirm to the courts of appeals in his first two years. However, for the Biden Administration to cement its judicial legacy, it will need to urgently snap back onto the lower courts. The first step might be if large batch of nominees, including 5-6 appellate picks, hits the Senate after the Jackson confirmation this week.

Tiffany Cartwright – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

The Western District of Washington is undergoing a transformation, with President Biden already having named three judges to the court and having the ability to fill the remaining four seats. One of his nominees is the 36 year old Tiffany Cartwright.

Background

Cartwright received a B.A. from Stanford University in 2007 and a J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2010. After graduating, Cartwright clerked for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe and for Judge Betty Binns Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before joining the Chicago office of Jenner & Block as an associate. Cartwright later shifted to MacDonald Hoague & Bayless and became a partner in 2018. She is still with the firm.

History of the Seat

Cartwright has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This seat opened on January 1, 2020, when Judge Benjamin Settle moved to senior status. The Trump Administration did not name a candidate to fill this vacancy. President Biden nominated Cartwright on January 19, 2022.

Legal Experience

Cartwright has spent her career largely in private practice at the firms of Jenner & Block and MacDonald Hoague & Bayless. At the latter, Cartwright has handled a number of civil rights matters, including representing the family of Leonard Thomas, who was shot and killed by a police sniper who was responding to a domestic violence incident. See $15M Awarded to Family of Unarmed Black Man Killed by Sniper, A.P. State & Local, July 15, 2017. After a jury trial, Thomas’ family was awarded a $15 million judgment. See id. She also represented a man who was forcibly re-arrested and returned to prison after being mistakenly released early. See Gene Johnson, Prisoner Mistakenly Released Early Sues Over Re-Arrest, A.P. Int’l, Mar. 22, 2018. Additionally, Cartwright obtained a $500,000 settlement for a man who spent two years in prisoner for a homicide charge that he was acquitted on after officers allegedly hid favorable evidence. King County Pays $500,000 to Man Acquitted of Murder Charge, A.P. State & Local, Apr. 23, 2021.

In other matters, Cartwright convinced an appellate court that a trial court lacked the authority to freeze the credit union account of a defendant. See State v. Gutierrez Meza, 191 Wn. App. 849 (2015).

Writings

In 2013, Cartwright was one of four authors of a paper discussing the increasing trend for courts to reject corporate plea agreements. See Reid Schar, Robert Stauffer, Tiffany Cartwright, Eddie Jauregui, Court Rejects Corporate Plea Agreements for Failing to Sufficiently Protect the Public Interest, PracticeView Database, Aug. 21, 2013. The paper specifically references and discusses Judge William Young’s decision to reject a corporate plea agreement in U.S. v. Orthofix. In another co-authored paper, Cartwright discusses strategies for litigators to respond and adapt to juror questions during trials. See Andrew Vail, Tiffany Cartwright, Using Juror Questions During Trial to Your Advantage: Practice Tips for Illinois Supreme Court Rule 243, Illinois Bar Journal, Dec. 1, 2013.

Additionally, as a law clerk to Justice Fabe, Cartwright authored a paper discussing the increasing development of veterans’ treatment courts. Tiffany Cartwright, “To Care for Him Who Shall Have Borne the Battle”: The Recent Development of Veterans Treatment Courts in America, 22 Stan. L. & Pol’y Rev. 295 (2011). The article is generally complimentary of veterans court programs, noting that such programs work well to reduce recidivism, even if they are not widespread enough to fully serve the veteran population. See id. at 314-15.

Political Activity

Cartwright has a few political donations to her name, mostly to candidates for the Washington Supreme Court, although she twice donated to Biden in 2020.

Overall Assessment

At 36, Cartwright is the youngest nominee Biden has put forward for the federal bench and would be the second youngest federal judge in the country if confirmed. Her youth, combined with her background in civil rights, is likely to make Cartwright a controversial nominee. Nonetheless, if confirmed, Cartwright is set for a bright future, with a potential elevation to the Ninth Circuit and beyond.

Ten Questions Senators Should Ask Prospective Judicial Nominees

Nominations hearings are predictable.  Half the Senators on the Judiciary Committee fawn over the nominees, while the other half pepper them with hypotheticals and questions they know the nominee won’t answer.  For their part, the over-coached nominees avoid all but the softest of softballs, while firmly resisting any attempt to actually probe their thought processes.  As an interview process for a lifetime appointment, the nominations hearing rarely yields genuine insights.

This state of affairs cannot be blamed on one particular entity or party.  Rather, both parties have, over time, contributed to the current playing field, where all nominees need to do is to avoid ticking off the 50 senators they need to get confirmed.  As such, one wonders: how can this performative exercise be more useful?  How can a nominations hearing better illustrate a nominee’s temperament, philosophy, and ideology?

To that end, here are ten questions that, if asked and answered in good faith, can lend some authenticity to the process.  Now, nominees are mindful, of course, of their ethical obligations, and are unlikely to answer any questions regarding privileged communications or about contested matters they are likely to hear.  With that in mind, senators should ask:

What is a legal, political, social, or moral position you previously advocated for that you no longer believe to be correct?

This is a question that I’m surprised hasn’t been asked more to nominees.  Unlike hypothetical questions about future cases, nominees are generally free to say: “I argued X in this case. I lost. And I now realize that the judge got it right.”  Furthermore, getting an answer to this question establishes two important things: first, it affirms that the nominee is willing to acknowledge when they got things wrong and they’re willing to grow from their mistakes; and second, it establishes that they are not set in their views. They’re willing to grow and evolve, an important characteristic to inculcate in someone seeking a lifetime appointment.

When was the last time you changed your mind on a legal, political, or moral issue after a discussion with someone who holds a contrary position?

Federal judges, insulated by lifetime appointments, are constantly at risk of ossifying in their legal views, particularly if those views are never challenged in discussions or arguments.  However, there are many federal judges who maintain their intellectual curiosity even after joining the bench and who are willing to engage with critics and contrarians to better understand and shape their views.  The answer to this question demonstrates both that: 1. the nominee has an open mind and is willing to change their views when they’re wrong; and 2. they’re willing to engage with those they disagree with.

Name a Time in Which You were able to convince another person of the validity of your view/position after a discussion.

A corollary to the previous question, this question also has the benefit of reinforcing the nominee’s ability to persuade others of the positions they hold, particularly important in appellate nominees.

Name a policy/law/regulation that you oppose as a matter of policy but agree is constitutional under current precedent.

The wisdom of a particular law and policy is often equated with its constitutionality.  While there are exceptions (eg. Justice Thomas’ concurrence in Lawrence criticizing the Texas ban on sodomy while finding it constitutional), it is increasingly rare for a judge to find that a policy they find strongly objectionable is not barred by the Constitution or caselaw.  Asking this question will demonstrate that a nominee can parse the difference.

The issue with the question, of course, is that it requires the nominee to make a statement acknowledging the constitutionality of a hypothetical law, which may be barred where a future challenge to that law may come before the judge.  However, as long as the question is focused on relatively uncontroversial areas of law, the nominee may be able to permissibly answer.

Name a policy/law/regulation that you support as a matter of policy but agree is unconstitutional under current precedent.

This is arguably an even harder question to answer than the previous one.  It would require a nominee to acknowledge the current structure of limited government set out in the constitution and note that it prevents, for better or for worse, the government from meaningfully intervening in many problems.  It is nonetheless important that a nominee is able to acknowledge this fact.

What is one thing you would seek to change about the court you’re about to join?

From reforms to PACER to cameras in the courtroom, the movement to democratize access to the federal court system is growing.  An answer to this question should show that the nominee is willing to recognize the shortcomings of the court systems they are seeking to join, to rethink old orthodoxy, and to challenge the status quo in service of justice.

What have you done so far to give back to your community as a lawyer?  What will you do as a judge?

The federal bench has been rightly criticized for setting itself apart from the communities it serves.  As such, nominees who demonstrate a connection with their communities, whether it’s through pro bono service, volunteer work, or other forms of engagement are particularly valuable.  Answering this question would also lead the nominee to demonstrate their willingness to continue such acts as a judge.

What is a bias/prejudice that you currently struggle with?  How do you work to overcome that prejudice?

This is an important question and one that’s asked too little.  While acknowledging any bias or prejudice is widely seen as career suicide, the bottom line is that human beings almost innately carry biases and prejudices with them, and it is only by acknowledging and working against them that one can overcome those prejudices.  Such prejudices do not have to be based on race, gender, or such immutable characteristics.  One could, for example, carry a bias against working moms, against city-dwellers, against west-coast rap fans, against those cheering the Red Sox, or against any identifiable group.  It is particularly important for judicial nominees to acknowledge their biases and work to overcome them given the power and influence they are seeking to take on.

What is a quality you have seen in a judge that you would seek NOT to emulate on the bench?

As awkward as it may be for nominees seeking a judicial position to acknowledge, judges are human.  They are sometimes short-tempered, and often wrong.  A nominee needs to be able to recognize that judges do err and that it is just as important to learn from the mistakes of others as it is to learn from one’s own mistakes.

What is the Biggest Mistake You Have Made in Your Career?  How Would You Seek to Avoid It on the Bench?

And finally, a question that encapsulates the others asked before. One that requires the nominee to demonstrate introspection, forethought, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and a willingness to get things wrong.  Like it or not, all lawyers make mistakes.  The best among us learn and grow from them and it is essential that our judges do as well.

With the nominations hearing of Judge Ketanji Jackson beginning today, it will be interesting to see if the hearings follow the predictable patterns laid out over the past two decades.  If any of the above questions are asked and answered in good faith, however, it will yield significant insight into Judge Jackson’s approach to the bench and the kind of justice she would be.

Judge Nina Wang – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

Judge Nina Wang has spent the better part of the last decade as a federal magistrate judge. That background, along with a relatively uncontroversial career, makes Wang favored to take a seat on the District of Colorado.

Background

Born in Taiwan, Wang attended Washington University in St. Louis graduating in 1994. Wang then received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1997.

After graduating, Wang joined Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobsen as an associate before clerking for Judge Peter Messite on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Wang then spent four years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Colorado.

In 2004, Wang joined the Denver Office of Faegre Drinker, where she worked until 2015, when she was appointed to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge.

History of the Seat

Wang has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. This seat will open on July 15, 2022 when Judge Christine Arguello takes senior status. Wang was previously recommended by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to replace Judge R. Brooke Jackson, but another candidate, Charlotte Sweeney was chosen instead. Wang was then nominated to replace Arguello.

Legal Experience

Wang began her legal career at the firm of Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobsen before spending four years as a federal prosecutor, where, among other matters, Wang represented the government in immigration habeas petitions. See, e.g., De Maria Gonzalez-Portillo v. Reno, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19537 (D. Colo. Dec. 6, 2000). From 2004 to 2015, Wang was at the Denver office of Faegre Drinker, where she worked on civil and intellectual property litigation. See, e.g., Pragmatus Telecom, LLC v. NETGEAR, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68616 (N.D. Cal. May 13, 2013).

Jurisprudence

Wang has served as a federal magistrate judge since her appointment in 2015. In this role, she presides by consent over civil matters and misdemeanors, assists district judges with discovery and settlement, and writes reports and recommendations on legal issues. Among her cases that she presided over, Wang recommended that a Failure to Protect claim filed by a group of incarcerated plaintiffs against correctional officers not be dismissed, which was largely adopted by U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer. See Leal v. Falk, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60556 (D. Colo. Mar. 29, 2021). In a separate case, Judge Christine Arguello adopted Wang’s recommendation to dismiss civil rights claims against Erie County officials who the plaintiff claims defamed her and her boyfriend by claiming that he was a sex-offender. See Trujillo v. Wren, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178342 (D. Colo. Sept. 20, 2021).

In another matter, Wang sanctioned plaintiff’s counsel in an antitrust lawsuit involving surgical bone mills, noting that they had failed to be forthright with the court. See Fink Densford, Lenox MacLaren Lawyers Draw Sanctions in Medtronic Anti-Trust Suit, MassDevice, Sept. 21, 2015. Wang also presided over a review of a settlement agreement for the release of the mentally ill who are incarcerated pending a return to competency. See Allison Sherry, Lawyers Seek Release of Mentally Ill From Colorado Jails, A.P. State & Local, Dec. 5, 2018.

Writings

As a law student, Wang authored a book review of Lucy Salyer’s Laws Harsh as Tigers, which discussed anti-Chinese racism and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the late 19th Century. See Nina Wang, Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law. Lucy E. Salyer. Chapel Hill, N.C. & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995, 31 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 587 (Summer, 1996). Wang describes Salyer’s writing as “a vivid reminder of the insidious effects of racism. Id. at 598.

Political Activity

Wang has made a handful of political donations, including to former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Colorado Democrat. In 2008, Wang also donated $50 to a Committee opposing Amendment 46, a proposed constitutional amendment (which narrowly failed in the general election) that would have banned affirmative action in public employment, education, and contracting.

Overall Assessment

With two decades of experience both as a judge and a litigator, it is hard to question Wang’s qualifications for a federal judgeship. As such, Wang’s nomination is unlikely to attract the opposition of her colleague Sweeney, and is likely to be confirmed before Judge Arguello moves off the bench.

Judge Stephanie Davis – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

A Democrat named to the federal bench by a Republican President, Judge Stephanie Davis is poised for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Background

Davis was born Stephanie Renaye Dawkins in Kansas City Missouri in 1967.  Davis received a B.S. from Wichita State University in 1989 and her J.D. from the Washington University School of Law in 1992.[1]

After graduation, Davis joined the Detroit office of Dickinson Wright PLLC.[2]  In 1997, Davis joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan as a federal prosecutor.[3]  In 2010, newly appointed U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade chose Davis to be Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney.[4] 

In 2016, Davis was appointed as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Michigan.  In 2019, at the recommendation of Michigan’s Democratic Senators, President Trump nominated Davis to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  Davis was unanimously confirmed to the position on December 19, 2019.  She currently serves as a U.S. District Judge.

History of the Seat

Davis has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  The current holder of the seat, Judge Helene White, another Democrat nominated by a Republican President, has announced that she will move to senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.

Legal Career

Davis has held two primary positions in her pre-bench career.  From 1992 to 1997, Davis worked at the Detroit office of Dickinson Wright PLLC, where she focused largely on commercial litigation.  Then, from 1997 to 2016, Davis worked as a federal prosecutor, including as the Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney, the second in command to then-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, from 2010 to 2016.

Notably, as a prosecutor, Davis prosecuted Sohrab Shafinia, a Farmington doctor, for writing prescriptions for controlled substances in exchange for cash payments.[6]  She also helped prosecute Detroit officials for taking bribes and kickbacks and conspiring to defraud retirees.[7]

Political Activity

Davis’ political activity has exclusively been in support of Democrats.  For example, Davis served with the transition team of Detroit mayor Dennis Archer in 1993 and volunteered to conduct election protection for the Obama campaign in 2008.[8]  She also gave $250 apiece to the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012.[9]  Furthermore, Davis was a member of the American Constitution Society, an organization of left-leaning lawyers and law students, from 2008 and 2016, and served on the Board of the Detroit Chapter of the group between 2012 and 2015.[10]

Jurisprudence

Davis served as a U.S. Magistrate judge from her appointment in 2016 to 2019.  In this role, she handled settlement, discovery, and made recommendations on dispositive motions.  She also presided over cases where the parties consent.  Between 2016 and 2019, Davis presided over sixteen civil cases that proceeded to judgment.[11]  Davis’s more prominent trials include a Computer Fraud Act case against a former employee who stole information before setting up a competitor,[12] and a bench trial arising from a traffic collision at Fort Meade.[13]  Additionally, in another matter, Davis denied summary judgment against Muslim plaintiffs who argued that they were denied calorically equivalent meals during their fasts for Ramadan.[14]

Since her confirmation in 2019, Davis has served as a U.S. District Judge on the Eastern District of Michigan.  Among the notable matters that Davis handled as a district judge, she was assigned to review a Michigan law that criminalized the practice of hiring drivers to transport voters to the polls.[15]  Davis granted a preliminary injunction against the law, finding that the statute was pre-empted by federal law.[16]  However, Davis’ decision was subsequently overruled by a 2-1 decision of the Sixth Circuit, although Chief Judge R. Guy Cole supported Davis’ decision in dissent.[17]

Overall Assessment

Davis has already been unanimously approved by the Senate less than three years ago.  While she is unlikely to repeat that feat, some of the gloss from her earlier confirmation is likely to carry over to this one.  Davis’ background as a federal prosecutor and magistrate judge makes her a fairly traditional nominee, and is unlikely to draw significant controversy.  For senators who oppose Davis, her reversal by the Sixth Circuit in the voter transportation case is bound to be closely cited.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Stephanie Davis: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 58.

[6] Michigan Physician Guilty of Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substance, Targeted News Service, Sept. 3, 2009.

[7] Jury Convicts Former Detroit City Treasurer, Pension Officials of Conspiring to Defraud Pensioners Through Bribery, U.S. Fed News, Dec. 8, 2014.

[8] Id. at 40.

[10] See Davis, supra n. 1 at 4.

[11] See id. at 12.

[12] Am. Furukawa, Inc. v. Hossain, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161650 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 29, 2017).

[13] United States v. McNeill, Traffic Violation No. 2359730.

[14] Conway v. Purves, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128171 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 1, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127648 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 20, 2016) (Parker, J.).

[15] See Marshall Cohen, Michigan Judge Blocks Law That Banned Paid Transportation to Polls, CNN.com, Sept. 17, 2020.

[16] See id. 

[17] Colin Kalmbacher, Conservative Appeals Court Allows Michigan to Enforce Ban on Paid Transportation to the Polls in Loss for Voting Rights Advocates, Newstex Blogs, July 21, 2021.