Judge Gabriel Sanchez – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

California appellate judge Gabriel Sanchez makes a young, credentialed, and well-connected candidate for the Ninth Circuit to complete the three-judge package with Judges Koh and Thomas.

Background

A native of Los Angeles, Gabriel P. Sanchez received a B.A. from Yale College in 1998 and then worked as a Fulbright scholar in Argentina. Sanchez then received an M. Phil. from the University of Cambridge in 2000 and a J.D. from the Yale Law School in 2005. After graduating from law school, Sanchez clerked for Judge Richard Paez on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then joined Munger Tolles & Olson as an Associate.

Sanchez left Munger in 2011 and, after a brief stint with the California Attorney General’s Office, joined the staff of Governor Jerry Brown as Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary.

In 2018, Brown appointed Sanchez to the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, where he currently serves as a judge.

History of the Seat

Sanchez has been nominated for a California seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to be vacated by Judge Marsha Berzon’s move to senior status.

Legal Experience

Sanchez started his career as a law clerk to Judge Richard Paez on the Ninth Circuit, and then spent six years at Munger, Tolles, and Olson, a firm that has produced multiple Ninth Circuit judges. He then spent eight years working for Governor Jerry Brown.

Munger Tolles and Olson

From 2006 to 2011, Sanchez worked at Munger Tolles and Olson, working alongside future Ninth Circuit Judges Paul Watford, John Owens, Michelle Freidland, and Daniel Collins. Among the cases he handled there, Sanchez represented one of the Defendants in a tort suit seeking damages for injuries allegedly suffered by a Navy serviceman due to asbestos exposure. See Taylor v. Elliott Turbomachinery Co. Inc., 170 Cal. App. 4th 564 (2009). He was also, alongside Collins, on the legal team for Occidental Petroleum in a challenge by environmental groups alleging destruction and illegal contamination. Carijano v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 626 F.3d 1137 (9th Cir. 2010).

Additionally, Sanchez handled a number of civil rights cases as Munger, including representing the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights in defending California’s policy of allowing undocumented state residents to pay in state tuition. Martinez v. Regents of the University of California, 241 P.3d 855 (Cal. 2010). He also challenged the State of California’s heat-illness-prevention regulation as constitutionally inadequate on behalf of the ACLU. See Bautista v. State of California, 201 Cal. App. 4th 716 (2011). His work in this case won him the ACLU of Southern California’s Social Justice Award in 2010.

Governor Brown’s Office

From 2011 to 2018, Sanchez served as Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary for Governor Jerry Brown, where he advised the Governor on criminal justice issues, as well as executive appointments, and clemency. Among the matters he handled there, Sanchez was the principal author of the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, which expanded rehabiilitative programs, limited prosecutors’ authority to try youth as adults without transfer hearings, and established a framework for prison safety regulations.

Jurisprudence

Since 2018, Sanchez has served as a Justice on the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, an intermediate appellate court that hears both criminal and civil cases. On the court, Sanchez joined a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals reversing the denial of Batson challenges for dismissing a prospective juror who expressed support for Black Lives Matter. Sanchez also joined a unanimous decision reversing a conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter because the prosecutor misstated the law in his closing argument.

Among opinions he authored, Sanchez held that California law did not impose a deadline for the Governor to certify proposed construction projects for expedited administrative and judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Overall Assessment

As previously noted on this blog, Sanchez, with his youth, stellar credentials, and varied experience, makes for an attractive candidate for the court of appeals. While this is likely to draw opposition from conservatives, it is unlikely to derail his nomination altogether. If Democrats are disciplined, they can confirm Sanchez to the Ninth Circuit by the end of the year, adding a new liberal voice to the court.

Judge Lucy Koh – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

This is Judge Lucy Koh’s second chance at a Ninth Circuit seat, having first been nominated by President Obama but never confirmed. With a Democratic Senate, Koh’s chances look significantly better this time around.

Background

Born August 7, 1968 in Washington D.C., Koh grew up in Maryland, Mississippi, and Oklahoma before attending Harvard University and Harvard Law School. After graduating from law school, Koh worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. and then for the U.S. Department of Justice.

In 1997, Koh became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. She left this post in 2000 to become a Senior Associate with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto and in 2002, became a Partner with McDermott Will & Emery LLP.

In 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Koh to the Santa Clara Superior Court. In 2010, President Obama appointed Koh to replace Judge Ronald Whyte on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

On February 25, 2016, Obama nominated Koh to the Ninth Circuit to replace Judge Harry Pregerson. Despite the Senate being controlled by Republicans, the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported Koh’s nomination to the Senate floor on September 20, 2021. However, Koh never received a final vote of confirmation and the seat was later filled by Trump appointee Daniel Collins. Koh remains a judge on the Northern District of California.

History of the Seat

Koh has been nominated for a California seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This seat will open when Judge Richard Paez takes senior status upon the confirmation of his successor.

Writings and Statements

While a student at Harvard, Koh both wrote and advocated on more diversity in hiring and academia, organizing a 1989 rally to promote the hiring of female and minority faculty. See, e.g., Campus Life: Harvard: The Flames of Student Protest Still Flicker, N.Y. Times, Mar. 19, 1989; see also Lucy Koh, Combatting Inequity, Public Interest Job Search Guide (Harvard Law School 6th ed. 1995). Koh continued her advocacy on this issue through law school. See Elizabeth A. Brown, Harvard Law School Sued, Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 26, 1990.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Koh worked in a variety of positions, including in government, as a prosecutor, and in private practice. Throughout this time, Koh tried seven cases as either sole or co-counsel, three before juries, and four before judges. Among these trials, Koh led the prosecution of four defendants for a telemarketing fraud that cost $5 million to consumers, leading to the conviction of all four. United States v. Stapleton, SA CR-99-47(A)-GLT (C.D. Cal.).

On the appellate side, while in private practice, Koh successfully convinced the en banc Federal Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn prior precedent and place the burden of proof for willful patent infringement on challengers rather than defendants. See In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc).

Jurisprudence

In 2008, Koh was appointed to the Santa Clara Superior Court, where she presided over 19 cases to verdict/judgment, including fourteen jury trials. Among her more notable cases, Koh presided over a jury trial on molesting a child and indecent exposure. People v. Valdovinos, No. CC805147 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2008).

Since 2010, Koh has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of California. In this role, Koh has handled a number of high profile cases. Most notably, Koh presided over a lawsuit filed by Apple alleging that Samsung infringed on its patents in making its galaxy phone. Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 429 (2016). A jury found that Samsung had willfully infringed on Apple’s patents and ordered over $1 billion in damages. However, Koh ordered a retrial, finding that the jury had miscalculated damages and denied Apple’s motion for an injunction stopping sales of Samsung phones, a decision reversed by the Federal Circuit. See Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics, Inc., 678 F.3d 1314 (Fed. Cir. 2012). The case ended up with the Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the jury ruling and remanded. A second jury later also found in Apple’s favor.

More recently, Koh presided over litigation regarding the Trump Administration’s September 30 deadline for conducting the U.S. Census, issuing a preliminary injunction requiring an extension to the census deadline. The Ninth Circuit later, in a 2-1 vote, declined to disturb the injunction.

Overall Assessment

The first time Koh came before the U.S. Senate for confirmation, she was confirmed unanimously. When nominated for the Ninth Circuit in 2016, Koh was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan majority. As such, Koh can be optimistic the third time around. Of the three California nominees put forward for the Ninth Circuit, Koh remains the most likely to get bipartisan support although it would still be unlikely for Koh to get more than 5-6 Republican votes. Nonetheless, one can expect Koh to be confirmed by the end of the year.

Judge Holly Thomas – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Thomas is, at 41, the youngest of the four nominees to the Ninth Circuit put forward by the Biden Administration. If confirmed, Thomas would likely be a strong future contender for elevation to the Supreme Court.

Background

Thomas received her B.A. with Honors and Distinction from Stanford University in 2000 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 2004. After graduating from law school, Thomas clerked for Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

After her clerkship, Thomas joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as assistant counsel. In 2010, Thomas moved to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division as an appellate attorney. She left the Department in 2015 to join the New York Solicitor General’s Office.

In 2016, Thomas returned to California to work for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In 2018, Thomas was nominated by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Thomas has been nominated for a California seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While the White House has not announced which seat Thomas is expected to fill on the Court, she may be nominated to replace Judge Richard Paez, who is the only Los Angeles-based judge on the Ninth Circuit taking senior status.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Thomas worked primarily as a civil rights litigator. She started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. At the fund, Thomas was part of the legal team that defended the University of Texas’ admissions policies, which used race as part of a variety of factors in college admissions. See Fisher v. Texas, 556 F. Supp. 2d 603 (W.D. Tex. 2008). The suit eventually ended in the Supreme Court, which upheld the policy. See id., 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016).

From 2010 to 2015, Thomas worked for the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. In this role, Thomas represented the United States in suing the Tucson School District over court supervision of a desegregation decree. Fisher v. Tucson Unified Sch. Dist., 652 F.3d 1131 (9th Cir. 2011). She also represented the government as amicus in support of female volleyball players suing Quinnipiac University for violations of Title IX. See Biediger v. Quinnipiac Univ., 691 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2012).

In 2015, Thomas left the Department of Justice to join the New York Solicitor General’s Office. During her time with that office, Thomas helped defend New York’s ban on assisted suicide. See Myers v. Schneiderman, 140 A.D.3d 51 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). She also argued before the Second Circuit arguing that the Eighth Amendment complaint of a state prisoner should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (the Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Robert Katzmann, disagreed). Williams v. Priatno, 829 F.3d 118 (2d Cir. 2016).

Jurisprudence

Since 2018, Thomas has served as a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court. In this role, Thomas presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among the notable matters she has handled on the court, Thomas dismissed with prejudice a restraining order request by musician Elizabeth le Fey against her ex-boyfriend Sam France, finding that she had failed to disclose a prior restraining order against her by him on her application. Thomas’ ruling attracted criticism from some Los Angeles family lawyers, who noted that le Fey was proceeding without an attorney and that she had disclosed the restraining order in a different place on her application.

Overall Assessment

While Thomas doesn’t have a history of controversial statements, she is nonetheless likely to attract strong opposition for three reasons: first, her comparative youth; second, her history of work as a civil rights attorney; and third, her promise as a future SCOTUS candidate. Nonetheless, Thomas looks favored to win confirmation by the end of the year and to add a liberal voice to the Ninth Circuit.

Where We Stand: Assessing Vacancies and Nominations in the Federal Judiciary – The Midwest

We are in the August recess, a little more than six months into the Biden Presidency. When President Biden came to office on January 20, 2021, there were 52 current and future vacancies in the federal judiciary. Since that time, an additional 73 vacancies have opened and nine nominees have been confirmed, leaving 116 vacancies pending (including future vacancies). There are currently 26 more judicial nominees pending, meaning that 22% of vacancies have nominees. In comparison, by the August recess of 2017, President Trump had nominees pending for around 20% of vacancies. Given the lull during the recess, now is a good time to look at the landscape of federal judicial nominations: vacancies open; nominations pending; prospective openings. We turn now to the Midwest.

Sixth Circuit

Court of Appeals

The Cincinnati based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals serves the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The sixteen member court has been the site of notable squabbles between the judges, including allegations of judicial misconduct. Today, while the court has eleven Republican appointees and five Democratic appointees, the conservative-liberal divide is a closer nine to six, with Judge Julia Smith Gibbons occasionally voting with both blocs.

The Sixth Circuit also has a dramatic age divide between the conservative and the liberal wings. Of the six “liberal” judges on the court, four are already eligible for senior status. Additionally, a fifth, Judge Helene White, becomes eligible this year, while the sixth, Judge Jane Stranch, becomes eligible next year. In contrast, only two judges outside the liberal bloc are eligible for senior status, Gibbons and Judge Richard Griffin.

Despite the number of liberal judges who are eligible for senior status, there has not been an exodus in the Biden Administration. So far, no Sixth Circuit judge has officially announced their intention to take senior status or retire. Judge Bernice Donald, an Obama appointee who has been eligible for senior status since 2016, reportedly announced her move to take senior status in a letter to clerks in May. However, to date, no official announcement of the vacancy has been posted on the U.S. Courts website, and it is not unprecedented for a judge who initially decides to take senior status to subsequently change their mind.

At any rate, even without Donald, three Clinton appointees on the court have been eligible for senior status for the better part of a decade, and one or more of them could take senior status before the end of the Congress, as could Gibbons, White, or Stranch. The only eligible judge unlikely to take senior status under Biden is the staunchly conservative Griffin.

Kentucky

The Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky are served by ten active judges, four appointed by George W. Bush, two by Obama, and four by Trump. Currently, only Judge Karen Caldwell of the Eastern District of Kentucky is eligible for senior status, although Chief Judge Danny Reeves becomes eligible on August 1, 2022. Neither is expected to take senior status in the near future.

Michigan

Michigan is divided into two judicial districts: the Eastern and Western. The Eastern District, based in Detroit and composed of 15 active judgeships, currently has two vacancies, vacated by Judge Victoria Roberts on February 24 and by Judge David Lawson on August 6. Biden has nominated Oakland County Judge Shalina Kumar to replace Roberts and Michigan Senators are currently accepting applications to replace Lawson, with a deadline of September 2. The four judgeship Western District has one vacancy, opened by Judge Janet Neff’s move to senior status March 1. Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jane Beckering has been nominated to replace Neff. Both nominees have received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Additional vacancies may also be possible. Judges Denise Hood, Paul Borman, and Thomas Ludington on the Eastern District and Judge Paul Maloney on the Western District are already eligible for senior status. Additionally, Judges Sean Cox, Mark Goldsmith, and Gershwin Drain will become eligible for senior status before the end of the 117th Congress.

Ohio

Bisected into two judicial districts, Ohio federal trial courts are poised for a significant turnover. The eleven judgeship Northern District of Ohio currently has three vacancies. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown gathered applications to fill the vacancies in February with an application deadline on March 16. So far, no recommendations have been made public and no nominations have been announced. Additionally, Chief Judge Patricia Gaughan and Judge John Adams are eligible for senior status although both have disclaimed any interest in taking it.

The Southern District has no current vacancies but Chief Judge Algernon Marbley and Judge Judge Edward Sargus are already eligible for senior status, while Judge Michael Watson will reach eligibility on November 7 and Judge Timothy Black will hit the threshold in 2022. One or more of these jurists may move to senior status before the end of the 117th Congress.

Tennessee

The citizens of Tennessee are served by three judicial districts: the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts. None of the three districts currently have any vacancies, although there are several judges who are eligible for senior status who may take senior status before the end of 2022: Judge Thomas Varlan on the Eastern District; Judge Aleta Trauger on the Middle District; and Judges Stanley Anderson and John Fowlkes on the Western District. Additionally, Chief Judge Travis McDonough on the Eastern District is a possibility to be elevated to the Sixth Circuit to replace Donald, which would allow Biden to replace him in turn.

Seventh Circuit

Court of Appeals

The Chicago based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is home to many of the federal judiciary’s intellectual heavyweights. Despite having an 8-3 Republican appointee majority, the court is generally considered to be more moderate than conservative. Biden has already named one judge to the Seventh Circuit, Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi. He may have the opportunity to name others as four of the court’s eleven judges are eligible for senior status: Judges Frank Easterbrook, Michael Kanne, Ilana Rovner, and Diane Wood. Additionally, two more judges reach eligibility next year, Chief Judge Diane Sykes, and Judge David Hamilton. While Easterbrook and Sykes are unlikely to move to senior status in the near future, any of the other four could choose to vacate their seats before the end of the 117th Congress.

Illinois

Represented by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, Illinois saw seats filled fairly quickly under the previous few Administrations and largely avoided the lingering vacancies that plagued other states. Currently, there is no vacancy on any of the Illinois District Courts and only one future vacancy is teed up, from Northern District Judge Matthew Kennelly’s move to senior status in October. Additional vacancies, however, are possible, as Judge Sue Myerscough on the Central District and Judges Rebecca Pallmeyer and Charles Norgle on the Northern District are eligible for senior status.

Indiana

Indiana is served by the Northern District and the Southern District, each with five active judgeships. Currently, there is one judgeship vacant in the Northern District, created by Judge Theresa Springmann’s move to senior status in January. There is also a future vacancy scheduled in the Southern District when Judge Richard Young moves to senior status upon confirmation of a successor. While Indiana’s Republican Senators accepted applications to replace Springmann in 2019, no nomination has been made as of yet. However, President Biden named U.S. Attorneys to both of Indiana’s judicial districts as part of his first batch of nominees, suggesting that judicial nominees may also be in the offing.

Wisconsin

Divided into the five judgeship Eastern District and the two judgeship Western District, Wisconsin currently has one judicial vacancy, vacated by Judge William Griesbach’s move to senior status on December 31, 2019. So far, no nomination has been put forward to replace Griesbach, although Wisconsin Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson recommended four candidates to fill the vacancy in June: state court judges Tammy Jo Hock, William Pocan, and Thomas Walsh, and federal public defender Krista Halla-Valdes. Given the recommendations, a nominee is likely in the Fall.

Additional vacancies may also be possible. Both Judges Joseph Stadtmueller and Lynn Adelman are eligible for senior status and may choose to make the move this Congress.

Eighth Circuit

Court of Appeals

With ten judges appointed by Republican Presidents and only one appointed by a Democratic President, the Eighth Circuit is widely considered one of the most conservative courts in the country. This effect is magnified by the senior judges on the court, the vast majority of whom are also deeply conservative. If there is a bright side for liberals, it is that the lone Democratic-appointee on the court, Judge Jane Kelly, is also one of the court’s younger judges. The Eighth Circuit is currently the only court of appeals that has not had a vacancy open during the Biden Administration. If one opens, it’ll likely be due to the moves of Judges James Loken, William Benton, or Bobby Shepherd, who are the only judges currently eligible for senior status.

Arkansas

Arkansas, divided into the Eastern and Western Districts, has eight trial judgeships in total. Currently, those judgeships are filled by six appointees of President Obama, one of President George W. Bush, and one of President Trump. The only judgeship set to open this Congress is Judge Paul K. Holmes’ seat on the Western District of Arkansas, which is set to open on November 10. While Holmes gave plenty of warning, announcing his move on December 1, 2020, no nominee has been put forward by the White House. This is likely because the White House has been unable to reach an agreement with Arkansas Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton. While, during the Obama Administration, Boozman supported and returned blue slips for five District Court nominees, including Holmes, Cotton has yet to approve any Arkansas nominee from a Democratic President. As such, it remains to be seen if a nominee can be put forward to fill the vacancy.

Iowa

The judges on the Northern and Southern Districts of Iowa are comparatively young, with four out of five being under the sixty (and two under the age of fifty). The lone exception is Judge John Jarvey who has announced his intention to retire on March 18, 2022. Given Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s role as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the White House is likely to consult with him on Jarvey’s replacement. So far, no recommendations have been made public.

Minnesota

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota has one vacancy, created when Judge Joan Ericksen moved to senior status on October 15, 2019. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith sent a shortlist of candidates to fill the vacancy to the White House in early January but no nomination has been officially submitted yet. To compound the issue, additional vacancies may soon open as Chief Judge John Tunheim, who is eligible for senior status, steps down as Chief next year and as Judge Susan Nelson hits eligibility later this year.

Missouri

The Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri share an interesting quirk: they have sixteen active judgeships between them but only fourteen active judges. This is because two of the judges, Judge Rodney Sippel and Judge Brian Wimes, sit on both the Eastern and Western Districts. Counting each judge only once, the Districts are composed of eight Obama appointees, three Trump appointees, two Bush appointees, and one Clinton appointee. While there are no current vacancies, Sippel and Judge Henry Autrey are both eligible for senior status.

Nebraska

While currently without a vacancy, the District of Nebraska has an informal policy of judges moving to senior status as soon as they hit eligibility in order to best handle the caseload. The first judge to hit that eligibility threshold is Judge John Gerrard, who will hit it by the end of 2022.

North Dakota

With the two judgeships in North Dakota having been filled recently by President Trump, it’s extremely unlikely that either will open this Congress.

South Dakota

The three judgeship District of South Dakota is currently composed of two appointees of President Obama and one of President Clinton. It is set to have a vacancy open on October 1 when Judge Jeffrey Viken moves to senior status. In addition to Viken, Judge Karen Schreier became eligible for senior status on July 29 and may make the move as well. In April 2021, South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Randy Seiler submitted three names to fill the vacancy: former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin; Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Attorney General Tracey Zephier; and federal prosecutor Sarah Collins. A few weeks later, Herseth Sandlin took her name out of consideration. No nominee has been named to replace Viken yet.

Justice Beth Robinson – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

A pioneer in shaping the litigation and legislative strategy behind same-sex marriage, Beth Robinson made history in 2011 as the first openly LGBT Justice on the Vermont Supreme Court. She is now poised to make history again as the first openly LGBT judge on the Second Circuit.

Background

Born March 6, 1965, Beth Robinson graduated from Dartmouth College in 1986 and the University of Chicago Law School in 1989. After graduating, Robinson clerked for Judge David Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then joined the D.C. Office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as an associate.

In 1993, Robinson joined Langrock Sperry & Wool in Vermont. In 2010, newly elected Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin chose Robinson to be his counsel. A year later, Shumlin named Robinson to the Vermont Supreme Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Robinson has been nominated for a Vermont seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This seat was vacated by Judge Peter Hall, who moved to senior status on March 4, 2021 (Hall tragically passed away shortly after).

Legal Career

Robinson spent most of her career in private practice, although she did spend a few months as Counsel for Gov. Peter Shumlin before he appointed her to the Supreme Court.

Notably, while in private practice, Robinson was instrumental in shaping the legislative and litigation strategy to bring marriage equality to Vermont. In 1999, Robinson successfully argued before the Vermont Supreme Court that the Vermont Constitution prohibited restricting same-sex couples from the benefits of marriage. Baker v. State, 744 A.2d 864 (Vt. 1999). Robinson continued her work as an advocate for same-sex marriage on the legislative front throughout the 2000s until she was tapped by Shumlin. See, e.g., John Curran, In Vermont, Gay Marriage Debate Keeping It Civil, A.P. State * Local Wire, Jan. 13, 2008.

Jurisprudence

Robinson has served on the Vermont Supreme Court for the past decade. Her record on the bench is generally liberal but within the Court’s mainstream. Below, we have summarized some of the key features of her jurisprudence:

Negligence and Civil Liability

On the bench, Robinson has generally read civil liability broadly to allow matters to reach a jury. For example, in 2013, Robinson wrote for a unanimous court in finding that summary judgment should not have been granted to an insurer over an accident caused by a permittee to whom the insured owner loaned the car. See State Farm Mutual Automobile Co. v. Colby, 2013 VT 80.

Criminal Procedure

Robinson has also read criminal procedural protections broadly, cabining prosecutions. For example, she wrote for the court in holding that the mere fact of a motorist stopping his car in a remote location did not create grounds for a trooper to make a traffic stop. State v. Button, 2013 VT 92. Robinson also overturned Shamel Alexander’s conviction for heroin trafficking, finding that law enforcement violated Alexander’s Fourth Amendment rights in stopping and searching him. Vermont v. Alexander, 2016 VT 19.

Criminal Law

Robinson has generally read criminal statutes narrowly. For example, Robinson wrote for a divided 3-2 court in overturning a man’s conviction of harassment, holding that Vermont law required threats of violence in order for conduct to qualify under the statute. State v. Waters, 2013 VT 109. Robinson also wrote for the court in throwing out a state prisoner’s conviction for illegally practicing law after she assisted other inmates with filing legal claims. In re Serendipity Morales, 2016 VT 85.

Furthermore, Robinson dissented from the Supreme Court’s 3-2 decision upholding Justin Kuzawski’s conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, writing that, in her view, the safety boxcutter that Kuzawski brandished did not qualify under the statute. See State v. Kuzawski, 2017 VT 118. She was also part of a panel that held that Jack Sawyer, accused of planning a school shooting, could not be held without bail. See Sadie Housberg, VT Supreme Court: Sawyer Cannot Be Held Without Bail, Middlebury Campus, Apr. 18, 2018.

In contrast, Robinson upheld Latonia Congress’ conviction for murder, finding that the trial judge was correct in declining to instruct the jury that they could reduce the charge to voluntary manslaughter. State v. Congress, 2014 VT 129. Chief Justice Paul Reiber dissented, arguing that common law retained the discretion to reduce such charges in the jury. See id. Robinson also dissented from a decision tossing a conviction for posting KKK recruitment posters on the apartment doors of black women. See State v. Schenk, 2018 VT 45. Notably, Robinson wrote for a 4-1 court (with Chief Justice Marilyn Skoglund in dissent) upholding Vermont’s revenge porn law against a constitutional challenge. State v. Van Buren, 2018 VT 95.

Writings and Statements

Given her prominence in the marriage equality fight in Vermont, Robinson has spoken and written a number of times regarding the issue. For example, in 2009, Robinson moderated a panel at Dartmouth College on the subject, where she noted that she was working on the issue’s legal strategy as early as 1994. See Same-Sex Marriage in Law and Society: Dartmouth College’s Law Day Program 2009: Transcript of Law Day Panel, 34 Vt. L. Rev. 243 (Winter 2009). She also participated in a symposium on marriage law for the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. See 10 Mich. J. Gender & L 21, 27 (2003). Her remarks have (understandably) been strongly supportive of marriage equality. For example, in a speech at Seton Hall Law School, Robinson noted the impact of laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation:

“The law also tells a story…Before July 1, 2000, the story told by the laws of every state in this country was that committed, loving same-sex couples don’t exist, or if we do, our relationships have no value, and aren’t worthy of equal treatment under the law.” Beth Robinson, The Road to Inclusion for Same-Sex Couples: Lessons From Vermont, 11 Seton Hall Const. L. J. 237 (Spring 2001).

Robinson has also worked on the legislative battle for same-sex marriage, speaking out against bills to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. See Bill Would Define Marriage as Union of Man and Woman, A.P. State & Local Wire, Mar. 10, 1999. Robinson also advocated in favor of Vermont’s civil union bill, see Ross Sneyd, Sweeping Civil Union Bill Passes; Governor Will Sign It Into Law, A.P. State & Local Wire, Apr. 25, 2000, and later, Vermont’s gay marriage law. See John Curran, In Vermont, Gay Marriage Debate Keeping It Civil, A.P. State * Local Wire, Jan. 13, 2008.

Not all of Robinson’s writings have focused on the issue of same-sex marriage. In 1999, Robinson authored an article discussing negligence law affecting skiers injured on the slopes, and noting that Vermont caselaw generally leaves releases of liability unenforceable as a matter of public policy. See Beth Robinson, Playing it Safe: Allocating the Risk of Harm on the Slopes, 25 Ver. B. J. 15 (Mar. 1999).

Overall Assessment

With a decade of experience on Vermont’s highest court and more than two decades in litigation, Robinson will likely be deemed to be qualified for a seat on the Second Circuit. However, her advocacy on the same-sex marriage front, as well as her left-leaning record on the Supreme Court, may make her a controversial nominee to some senators. Nonetheless, there is little in Robinson’s record that would cause Democratic support to vanish, and, as such, her nomination will likely be confirmed by the end of the year.

Toby Heytens – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens, nominated for the Fourth Circuit, is, in many ways, a liberal counterpart to President Trump’s most notable appellate nominees: young; impeccably credentialed; and politically active.

Background

Born on December 24, 1975, Toby Jay Heytens received a B.A. from Macalester College in 1997, where he was on the mock trial team, Seth Hattena, Mock Trial Judges College Students, Telegraph Herald, Dec. 2, 1995, and a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School in 2000. After graduating, Heytens clerked for Chief Judge Edward Becker on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Thirs Circuit and then for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court (his clerk year on the court included NYU Dean Trevor Morrison, SDNY Judge Jesse Furman, and 8th Cir. Judge David Stras).

After his clerkship, Heytens joined the D.C. office of O’Melveny & Myers as an Associate. Heytens left to become a professor at Cornell Law School, and then, in 2006, at the University of Virginia Law School, where he stayed until 2018 (notwithstanding a three year leave of absence to work in the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office). In 2018, Attorney General Mark Herring named Heytens to be Virginia’s Solicitor General, and Heytens has served in that role since.

History of the Seat

Heytens has been nominated to replace U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, who will be moving to senior status on August 31, 2021. Heytens was one of three candidates recommended by Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine for the vacancy on May 25, 2021. Frank Green, Senators from Virginia Recommend Three Candidates to Fill Federal Appeals Court Vacancy, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 25, 2021. Heytens was announced on June 30, 2021.

Legal Experience

After his clerkships, Heytens started his career at O’Melveny & Myers, where, appointed under the Criminal Justice Act, Heytens represented Richard Wayne Simons, convicted of burglary in Maryland. See Peter Geier, New Trial Ordered for Burglary, Baltimore Daily Record, Nov. 2, 2004. Heytens was able to get the Court of Special Appeals to reverse Simons’ conviction, arguing that the prosecutor’s failure to disclose an inculpatory witness statement required suppression of the identification. See id.

While Heytens has spent most of his career since O’Melveny in academia, he did have two notable periods of litigation: from 2007 to 2010 in the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office; and since 2018 as Virginia Solicitor General.

During the former period, Heytens argued six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court:

Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389 (2008) – The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) requires a plaintiff to file a “charge” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 60 days of the discriminatory act. This case discussed whether filing an intake questionnaire within the 60 days qualifies as filing a charge even where the agency fails to file a formal “charge” within the time limit. Heytens argued as amicus that the filing of an intake questionnaire did not qualify as a charge under the law. The Supreme Court disagreed in a 7-2 ruling by Justice Anthony Kennedy and held that the plaintiffs had met the requirement to file a charge.

Flores-Figueroa v. United States, 556 U.S. 646 (2009) – The petitioner in this case was an illegal immigrant who had used a social security number belonging to another person and was convicted of two counts of aggravated identity theft. The question raised was whether the government needed to prove that the petitioner was aware that the social security number he used belonged to another person for the conviction. Heytens argued that the government did not need to prove this element but the Supreme Court held unanimously, in an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, that it did.

Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323 (2009) – The question was whether a police officer could, without probable cause, frisk a suspect during a traffic stop in the middle of a conversation about a topic unrelated to the stop. Heytens argued as amicus that probable cause was not needed in that scenario. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed that questions about unrelated topics during the temporary detention of a traffic stop did not transform the stop into a consensual encounter and that an officer could search an individual for weapons without probable cause.

United Student Aid Funds Inc. v. Espinosa, 559 U.S. 260 (2010) – In this case, Heytens argued as amicus in favor of a lender, arguing that the lender’s due process rights were violated when a borrower was permitted in discharging $4500 in loan debt in a bankruptcy proceeding without a showing of “undue hardship.” The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, held that the failure to find “undue hardship” was mere legal error and did not rise to a due process violation.

Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010) – This case involved an inmate who had been questioned in 2003 regarding allegations of sexual abuse of his child, and had invoked his Miranda rights at the time. The inmate was subsequently questioned in 2006 by a different detective who was unaware of the previous invocation. The question before the Supreme Court was whether the statements made in the 2006 confession should be suppressed due to the 2003 invocation. Heytens argued as amicus that they should not be suppressed and the Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, agreed.

Dolan v. United States, 560 U.S. 605 (2010) – The question in this case was whether the 90 day time limit to award restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act was jurisdictional, with Heytens arguing that the district court could still award restitution outside the limits. The Supreme Court agreed in a 5-4 ruling by Justice Stephen Breyer.

During his time in academia, Heytens managed the University of Virginia Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic and also argued one case before the U.S. Supreme Court:

City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt, 584 U.S. ___ (2018) – Heytens represented the City of Hays, Kansas, in arguing that the Fifth Amendment rights of a former police officer were not violated when compelled statements were used during a probable cause hearing. The Supreme Court did not decide the case, instead dismissing the petition for certiorari as improvidently granted after oral argument.

As Virginia Solicitor General, Heytens serves as the Commonwealth’s top appellate lawyer and has argued three more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court:

Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, 587 U.S. ___ (2018) – In this suit, Heytens defended Virginia’s ban on uranium mining against a pre-emption challenge under the Atomic Energy Act. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the Virginia ban in a 6-3 decision, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing for a plurality of three justices in the controlling opinion.

Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, 587 U.S. ___ (2019) – This case arose as a challenge to “racial gerrymandering” in the redistricting of state house districts in Virginia. After a lower court panel struck down 11 districts, the Solicitor General’s Office declined to appeal, and the Virginia House of Delegates (then controlled by Republicans) filed an appeal. The Supreme Court dismissed the case in a 5-4 opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the basis that the Virginia House of Delegates lacked standing to appeal.

Mathena v. Malvo – In this case, Heytens sought to reinstate sentences of life imprisonment against D.C. sniper Lee Malvo, vacated by a lower court due to prior Supreme Court precedent regarding life in prison for minors. After argument, the Supreme Court dismissed the case without decision due to an intervening change in law in Virginia.

In addition to his work before the U.S. Supreme Court, Heytens has defended Virginia’s coronavirus restrictions against legal challenges. See, e.g., Denise Lavoie, Virginia Defends Coronavirus Restrictions in Church Lawsuit, A.P. Int’l, May 7, 2020. In other notable matters, Heytens successfully argued before the Virginia Supreme Court that the risk of violence justified a weapons bar on a gun rights rally, see Denise Lavoie, Virginia’s Highest Court Upholds Weapons Ban at Gun Rally, A.P., Jan. 17, 2020, and defended the legality of removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from Richmond. See Adam Klasfeld, ‘A Matter of Racial Equality’: Virginia’s Solicitor General Urges Top Court to Affirm Ruling Allowing Removal of Robert E. Lee Statue, Newstex Blogs, June 8, 2021.

Writings

Having been an academic for most of his career, Heytens has written a number of articles discussing developments in the law. Some of his writing is summarized below:

The Constitutionality of Blaine Amendments

As a law student in 2000, Heytens argued in a note that Blaine Amendments, amendments in state constitutions that bar public money from being spent to benefit religious institutions, are constitutionally suspect under the Equal Protection Clause as they discriminate based on religion. See Toby J. Heytens, School Choice and State Constitutions, 86 Va. L. Rev. 117, 140 (February 2000). Heytens details the anti-Catholic animus underlying many of the amendments and suggests that any effort by states to restrict public money in a voucher program from going to religious schools would likely run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause. See id. at 153-54.

“Transitional Moments”

Heytens has been particularly active in writing about the issues and problems that arise in applying changes in the law. In 2006, Heytens wrote on the application of changes in criminal law and precedent on cases that are pending during the “transition.” Toby J. Heytens, Managing Transitional Moments in Criminal Cases, 115 Yale L.J. 922 (March 2006). Heytens criticizes traditional views of “forfeiture” in the criminal context as unduly restrictive, arguing that we shouldn’t penalize criminal defendants from making legal arguments that were not viable at the time that the defendant was initially convicted. See id. at 942-43. In 2012, Heytens further discussed retroactivity in the law and potential remedies when the law changes. Toby J. Heytens, The Framework(s) of Legal Change, 97 Cornell L. Rev. 595 (March 2012).

Reassignment on Remand

In 2014, Heytens authored an article discussing the rare practice of appellate courts reassigning decisions to different district court judges after reversing the original opinions. Toby J. Heytens, Reassignment, 66 Stan. L. Rev. 1 (Jan. 2014). Heytens suggests that the practice be more clearly delineated through local rules that are broadly applicable to reassignment decisions rather than having the decisions be made on a case-by-case basis. See id. at 54.

Political Activity

Heytens has an extensive record of political contributions, almost exclusively to Democrats. Recipients of Heytens’ contributions included the Presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, as well as Gov. Ralph Northam, A.G. Mark Herring, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

Overall Assessment

With excellent academic credentials, and a record of strong appellate advocacy, Heytens can be deemed well-qualified for a seat on the Fourth Circuit. Nonetheless, he may draw opposition based on his academic writings, as well as his litigation history (including his defense of the Lee statue removal and the firearms ban) and his political contributions.

However, barring any unexpected developments, Heytens will likely be confirmed in due course. On the bench, Heytens is expected to pad up the Fourth Circuit’s aging center-left majority.

Jennifer Sung – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Labor-side attorneys aren’t commonly selected for the federal bench, even by past Democratic Administrations. As such, the nomination of Jennifer Sung, who has spent her entire career representing unions and workers’ rights organizations, to the Ninth Circuit is particularly notable.

Background

Jennifer Sung received her B.A. from Oberlin College in 1994 and then spent three years working as a labor organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 74. She then spent three years as an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 before joining Yale Law School. After graduating, Sung clerked for Judge Betty Binns Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then served as a Skadden Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

In 2007, Sung joined the San Francisco office of Altshuler Berzon LLP, a union-side labor law firm established by now-Ninth Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon. In 2013, Sung became a Partner with McKanna Bishop Joffe LLP in Portland. Since 2017, Sung has been a member of the Oregon Employment Relations Board, where she helps to resolve labor disputes and conflicts.

History of the Seat

Sung has been nominated to an Oregon seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This seat is currently held by Judge Susan Graber, who has announced her intention to move to senior status upon confirmation of her successor.

Legal Experience

Consistent with her work as a labor organizer prior to law school, Sung has spent her career as a labor lawyer, frequently representing unions and worker’s groups. Some of her prominent cases are summarized below.

Challenge to Arizona SB 1365

In 2011, Sung represented the Local 5 Service Employees International Union in challenging Arizona SB 1365, which limited public employees’ ability to send payroll deductions to certain unions that engaged in political activity. See United Food & Commer. Workers Local 99 v. Brewer, 817 F. Supp. 2d 1118 (D. Ariz. 2011). The law was enjoined by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who found that it violated the First Amendment. See id.

Challenge to ACA Individual Mandate

In 2011, Virginia challenged the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional and won before the U.S. District Court. Sung represented the Service Employees International Union as amicus before the Fourth Circuit urging the court to uphold the mandate. See Virginia ex rel. Cuccinelli v. Sebelius, 656 F.3d 253 (4th Cir. 2011). The Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate (and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually agreed). See id.

New York Transit Strike of 2005

In 2005, during negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement between transportation unions and the the New York City Transit Authority, the Authority obtained an injunction pursuant to New York’s Taylor Law to prevent the unions from striking. See New York City Tr. Auth. v. Transport Workers Union of A., 35 A.3d 73, 75 (N.Y. App. Div. 2006). When the Local 100 of Transport Workers Union of America initiated a strike anyway, it was found in contempt and fined $1 million per day. See id. Sung represented amicus in supporting the Union’s challenge to the contempt citation on appeal. See id. However, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld the citation against the Union’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment challenges. See id.

Los Angeles Worker Retention Ordinance

In 2011, Sung represented amicus in defending the City of Los Angeles worker retention ordinance, which limited employers’ ability to replace their workforces. See California Grocers Ass’n v. City of Los Angeles, 52 Cal. 4th 177 (2011). While the California Court of Appeals struck down the ordinance as being pre-empted by state law, the California Supreme Court upheld the ordinance. See id. at 210.

Legislative and Policy Work

While at the Brennan Center, Sung also worked on labor policy outside of the litigation context. For example, Sung advised the New York Working Families Policy in developing a proposal to tax companies, such as Wal Mart, who failed to provide health benefits for their workers. See Danny Hakim, Wal-Mart Looms Over 2 Bills to Improve Worker Health Care, N.Y. Times, Mar. 8, 2006. Sung also helped draft a Chicago ordinance requiring big box retailers, such as Wal-Mart, to provide a living wage to employees. See Gretchen Ruethling, In Chicago, New Pay Law Is Considered for Big Stores, N.Y. Times, May 28, 2006.

Overall Assessment

With extensive experience in labor law, Jennifer Sung has an unusual background for an appellate nominee. Not since Marsha Berzon was appointed to the Ninth Circuit in 2000 has such a nominee been picked for the Ninth Circuit. Based on her representations and her work in drafting ordinances and legislation, Sung is likely to attract opposition from most Senate Republicans. However, assuming that Democrats stick together, they should be able to confirm Sung by the Fall. Once confirmed, it is likely that Sung would establish a jurisprudential profile similar to that of Berzon’s.

Myrna Perez – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

The Biden Administration has long telegraphed an interest in choosing judicial nominees who depart from traditional practice path, and, so far, has met this promise with their initial nominees. Myrna Perez, who made a name for herself as a prominent voting and elections scholar and litigator, fits into this pattern of nominee.

Background

Born in San Antonio to an immigrant family from Mexico, Perez received her B.A. from Yale University in 1996, an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School in 1998, and her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2003. After graduating, Perez clerked for Judge Anita Brody on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for Judge Julio Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. After her clerkships, Perez served as a Civil Rights Fellow at the firm of Relman Dale & Colfax in Washington D.C. before joining the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Perez is still with the Institute, serving as Director of the voting rights and elections program.

History of the Seat

Perez has been nominated for a New York seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This seat was vacated by Judge Denny Chin, who moved to senior status on June 1, 2021.

Legal Career

Perez started her legal career clerking for Judge Anita Brody on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and then for Judge Julio Fuentes on the Third Circuit. She then spent a year working on civil rights ltiigation at Relman Colfax, where, among other matters, Perez represented the Idaho Aids Foundation in a suit against the Idaho Housing and Finance Association regarding the cut-off of funding for the former’s programming. See Idaho Aids Found., Inc. v. Idaho Hous. and Fin. Ass’n, 422 F. Supp. 2d 1193 (D. Idaho 2006).

Since 2006, Perez has been with the Brennan Center, where she has focused on suits focused on election law and voting rights. For example, Perez has part of the legal team participating as amici in a state court suit involving the voting rights of convicted felons in Alabama. See Chapman v. Gooden, 974 So. 2d 972 (Ala. 2007). She also participated as amicus in a suit challenging the at-large voting system set up by the Village of Port Chester as violative of the Voting Rights Act by diluting Hispanic votes. See United States v. Vill. of Port Chester, 704 F.Supp.2d 411 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).

More notably, Perez served as counsel for a number of plaintiff groups challenging Texas SB 14, which required photo ID in order to vote. Perez successfully persuaded a panel of the Fifth Circuit to strike down the law. See Veasey v. Abbott, 830 F.3d 216 (5th Cir. 2016). Perez also challenged SB 5, the voter ID law passed to replace SB 14, but a panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld the new law. Veasey v. Abbott, 888 F.3d 792 (5th Cir. 2018).

In other notable cases, Perez represented amici in challenges to North Carolina’s voter ID law, N.C. State Conf. of the NAACP v. Raymond, 981 F.3d 295 (4th Cir. 2020), represented plaintiffs challenging restrictions placed on felon re-enfranchisement by the Florida legislature, Jones v. Governor of Fla., 975 F.3d 1016 (11th Cir. 2020) (en banc), and defended Pennsylvania’s mail-in-voting scheme for the 2020 elections. See Donald J. Trump v. Boockvar, 493 F. Supp. 3d 331 (W.D. Pa. 2020).

Statements and Writings

In her role at the Brennan Center, Perez has frequently written, spoken, and made media comments about issues of election law and voting rights. We summarize some of the key issues she has spoken on below.

Voter I.D.

Consistent with the litigation she has participated in, Perez has frequently spoken out in opposition to attempts to require photo ID to verify voter identity at the polls. Perez instead argues that voter integrity can be preserved without restrictive ID requirements, but instead by modernizing the registration process and improving the integrity of voting rolls. See Myrna Perez, Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda, Brennan Center for Justice, Jan. 19, 2016, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/election-integrity-pro-voter-agenda.

Shelby County

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the preclearance coverage formula under Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013). Both before and after the decision, Perez wrote in strong support of the preclearance formula enacted by Congress. Perez was critical of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the formula and urged congressional action to fix the gap.

Voter “Purges”

Perez has been sharply critical of voter “purges” in which states remove large number of voters from voter rolls en masse. Perez has called out such “purges” in Mississippi, Louisiana, Montana, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, among other states. Nonetheless, Perez has spoken out supportively in favor of efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls, and has argued that states must strike the right balance between cleaning up voter rolls and not removing eligible voters. See Reid Wilson, Advocates Fear Ohio Decision Could Lead to More Voter Purges, The Hill, June 12, 2018 (quoting Myrna Perez).

Felon Enfranchisement

Perez has frequently written in support of restoring the right to vote to convicted felons. She also testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of the For the People Act, an election reform bill which, among many provisions, restores voting rights to many Americans with felony convictions.

Overall Assessment

Because secure and accessible elections are fundamental to the health of a democracy, voting rights is an area of law that draws strong feelings from all sides. In investing her legal career in this controversial area of law, Perez likely recognizes that her nomination would draw an unusual degree of scrutiny and opposition.

Given Perez’s extensive experience litigating on the district court and appellate levels, opponents are unlikely to attack Perez’s intelligence, integrity, or skill as an attorney, but will likely instead argue that her record is too “political” to be a judge. Some senators may also argue that Perez’s specialized career does not prepare her for the spectrum of matters coming before the Second Circuit.

In short, expect virtually all Republicans to oppose Perez, but, as long as all Democrats can stay on board (likely with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer championing the nomination), Perez will be confirmed in due course.

Veronica Rossman – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

In the history of the Tenth Circuit, only one Democratic appointee has ever been named to the court from Colorado: Judge Carlos Lucero.  With Judge Lucero’s move to senior status, Federal Defender Veronica Rossman is now poised to become the second.

Background

Rossman was born Veronica Sophia Parkansky to a Jewish family in Moscow in 1972.[1]  After getting a B.A. from Columbia University in 1993, Rossman joined the University of California Hastings Law School, graduating in 1997.  After graduating, Rossman clerked for Chief Justice A. William Maupin on the Nevada Supreme Court before joining Morrison & Foerster as a litigation associate.

In 2003, Rossman became an assistant federal defender in the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming for a year and then spent a year at Mastbaum & Moffat, and a year as a staff attorney with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before becoming a professor at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.

Since 2010, Rossman has worked as a Federal Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming, serving as Senior Counsel since 2017.

History of the Seat

Rossman was tapped for a Colorado seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Carlos Lucero’s move to senior status on February 1, 2021.  

Legal Career

Rossman has held a variety of positions throughout her legal career, including as a law professor, federal defender, and attorney in private practice.  Rossman started her career as an Associate with Morrison and Foerster, where, among other matters, she represented Dr. Edward McSweegan, a National Institute of Health (“NIH”) doctor, in a cross-filed defamation lawsuit against the founders of the Lyme Disease Foundation (“LDF”).[2]

The bulk of Rossman’s career has been at the Federal Defender Service, representing indigent defendants in federal courts in Colorado and Wyoming.  Among the matters she handled with the office, Rossman represented Arlo Looking Cloud, who was charged with murdering Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash in Denver.[3] 

Much of Rossman’s work, however, has been in appellate courts.[4]  Among the notable cases she handled, Rossman successfully persuaded the Tenth Circuit to reject a probation condition allowing probation officers to require third-party notification by the defendant upon the probation officer’s determination of a threat by the defendant.[5]  In an opinion by Judge Carolyn McHugh, the Tenth Circuit agreed that the condition improperly delegated judicial power to the probation officer.[6]

In another case, Rossman argued that U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer committed plain error in holding that the defendant’s 1992 conviction for “Sale or Transportation of Marijuana” constituted a drug trafficking felony under the sentencing guidelines.[7]  In an opinion by Judge Lucero, the Tenth Circuit agreed that Brimmer had committed plain error in finding that the offense was a “drug trafficking” offense, but affirmed on the basis that the error did not affect the defendant’s “substantive” rights.[8]

Additionally, Rossman joined a team of public defenders filing an amicus brief in Welch v. United States, asking the Supreme Court to hold that Johnson v. United States, which voided the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, should be applied retroactively.[9]  The Supreme Court agreed with Rossman’s position in a 7-1 decision (with Justice Thomas as a lone dissenter).[10]

Overall Assessment

With experience in private practice, academia, and indigent defense, Rossman appears to be qualified for a seat on the Tenth Circuit.  While she has few writings or policy positions expressed that can be triggers for opposition, some senators may nonetheless oppose Rossman on the basis on her representation of indigent defendants.  Needless to say, such opposition is unlikely to carry the day and Rossman should join the Tenth Circuit bench by the fall.

[1] Veronica S. Rossman Fact Sheet, Alliance for Justice, https://www.afj.org/document/veronica-s-rossman-fact-sheet/ (last visited Jun. 3, 2021).

[2] Vanderhoof-Forschner v. McSweegan, No. 99-1615, No. 99-1616, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 10682 (4th Cir. May 16, 2000).

[3] See Deborah Mendez, Judge Orders Denver Man to Face Murder Charge in South Dakota, A.P. State & Local Wire, Apr. 4, 2003.

[4] See, e.g., United States v. Paup, 933 F.3d 1226 (10th Cir. 2019); United States v. Bacon, 900 F.3d 1234 (10th Cir. 2018); United States v. Dunbar, 718 F.3d 1268 (10th Cir. 2013); United States v. Loya-Rodriguez, 672 F.3d 849 (10th Cir. 2012).

[5] United States v. Cabral, 925 F.3d 687 (10th Cir. 2019).

[6] See id. at 690.

[7] United States v. Castellanos-Barba, 648 F.3d 1130 (10th Cir. 2011).

[8] Id. at 1133.

[9] See Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1260 n. 1 (U.S. 2016).

[10] Id. at 1261.

Judge Gustavo Gelpi – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has not seen a new judge appointed since 2014, longer than any other court of appeals.  With the death of Judge Juan Torruella in 2020, the Court now has a vacancy and a nominee, District Judge Gustavo Gelpi.

Background

Gustavo Antonio Gelpi Jr. was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 11, 1965.  Gelpi received a B.A. from Brandeis University in 1987 and his J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in 1991.  After graduating, Gelpi spent two years as a law clerk for Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez on the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico before joining the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Puerto Rico.

In 1997, Gelpi joined the Puerto Rico Attorney General’s Office, becoming the Territory’s Solicitor General in 1999.  In 2001, he left the position to re-enter private practice, but the same year became a federal magistrate judge at only thirty-five. 

On April 24, 2006, Gelpi was nominated by President George W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, replacing Judge Hector Laffitte.  Gelpi was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on July 20, 2006, becoming the 24th Hispanic judge appointed by Bush and breaking the record for the most number of Hispanic federal judges named by any President.[1]  Gelpi has served on the Court ever since.

History of the Seat

Gelpi has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  This seat opened with the death of Judge Juan Torruella, a pioneering judge who was the first from Puerto Rico to sit on the First Circuit, on October 26, 2020.  On November 13, 2020, President Trump nominated U.S. District Judge Raul Arias-Marxuach to fill the vacancy.  While Arias-Marxuach received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was never reported to the floor and the seat was left open at the end of the Trump Administration.

Political Activity

Gelpi has a few donations to his name, giving to members of both parties, including the Vice President Al Gore and Commissioner Luis Fortuno (Fortuno caucused with the GOP as a resident commissioner in Washington).[2]  

Legal Experience

While Gelpi has been a judge since the age of thirty-five, in his career before that, Gelpi worked in a variety of legal positions.  He started his career, like a number of Biden appointees, as a public defender, representing indigent defendants in federal court between 1993 and 1997.

Notably, as Puerto Rico Solicitor General, Gelpi argued before the First Circuit, arguing that Puerto Rico residents, as U.S. Citizens, had a right to vote in the 2000 Presidential election, even though Puerto Rico is not a state.[3]  The First Circuit rejected the lawsuit, holding that Puerto Rico residents did not have a constitutional right to vote in presidential elections.[4]

Judicial Experience

Gelpi has served as a judge for twenty years, including five as a U.S. Magistrate Judge and fifteen as a U.S. District Court Judge.  We summarize some of Gelpi’s more significant cases during this tenure below.

U.S. Magistrate Judge

Gelpi served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge from 2001 to 2006.  In this role, he handled settlement, discovery, and made recommendations on dispositive motions.  He also presided over cases where the parties consent and reviewed bail and detention motions.  Among the noteworthy matters he handled as a U.S. Magistrate, Gelpi ordered the seizure of a polar bear from the Hermanos Brothers Circus, finding that the papers for the bear indicating sale from a zoo were fraudulent.[5]

Puerto Rico Resident Rights

One theme of many of Gelpi’s rulings has been to push back against the disparate treatments of Puerto Rico residents under the law.  Early in his career as a judge, Gelpi presided over a lawsuit challenging the disparate treatment of health centers in Puerto Rico in Medicaid “wraparound” payments.[6]  In his ruling, Gelpi outlined the legal and political history of Puerto Rico to rule that it was now an “incorporated” territory of the U.S. and thus was entitled to protection from “discriminatory federal legislation.”[7]  Similarly, in a ruling upheld by the First Circuit, Gelpi also found that Puerto Rico residents could not be discriminated against in Social Security Supplemental Disability benefits.[8]

Gay Marriage

In 2016, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez ruled that the Obergefell decision did not apply to Puerto Rico and that the territory’s ban on gay marriage remained in effect.[9]  The ruling was appealed to the First Circuit, who promptly reversed and reassigned the case to Gelpi, ruling that Perez-Gimenez’s ruling “errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin.”[10]  On April 11, 2016, Gelpi issued a declaratory judgment invalidating Puerto Rico’s same sex marriage ban under Obergefell.[11]

Sony Entertainment and Copyright

In 2015, Gelpi ruled that Luis Adrian Cortes-Ramos, a songwriter who entered a music video contest held by Sony, was compelled to arbitrate his intellectual property suit against them.[12]  His ruling was ultimately upheld by the First Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Juan Torruella.

Writings

Both before and after taking the bench, Gelpi has written extensively on the law, including pieces in Spanish and English.  Among the topics on which Gelpi has written are the Confederate judiciary during the American Civil War,[13] the Insular Cases,[14] and maritime law.[15]  For example, in an article early in his career, Gelpi details the history of Puerto Rico law that permits the U.S. Congress to allow the territory to supersede federal maritime law.[16]

Overall Assessment

With two decades as a federal judge, Judge Gelpi comes to his First Circuit nomination with more federal judicial experience than any nominee since Judge Julie Carnes was appointed in 2014.  This experience necessarily dictates a large number of rulings, some controversial, that are likely to be closely scrutinized in order to determine confirmation.  In particular, Gelpi may draw questions related to his writings and rulings on the disparate treatment of Puerto Rico under the law, as well as his participation in the suit to have Puerto Ricans vote in the 2000 Presidential election.

Nonetheless, Gelpi certainly has the requisite experience for the bench, and as a mid-50s judge nominated by a Republican President, some Republicans may feel that Gelpi is the best they can get from the Biden Administration. Ultimately, how many Republican votes Gelpi gets may be a good indication of how much bipartisan support the Administration’s nominees can expect. If senators oppose Gelpi, they are unlikely to support any Biden nominee.

[1] Ken Herman, Bush Has Appointed More Hispanic Federal Judges Than Past Presidents, Cox News Service, Sept. 21, 2017.

[2] See Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=gustavo+gelpi&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited May 23, 2021).

[3] Martin Finucane, Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Puerto Rico Vote Case, A.P. State & Local Wire, Oct. 5, 2000.

[4] See Iguarta de la Rosa v. United States, 229 F.3d 80, 83 (2000) (per curiam).

[5] Luis Varela, Federal Authorities Remove Polar Bear From Mexican Circus in Puerto Rico, A.P. Int’l, Mar. 6, 2002.

[6] See Consejo de Salud Playa De Ponce v. Perez-Pordomo, 556 F. Supp. 2d 76 (D.P.R. 2008).

[7] See id. at 105.

[8] See United States v. Vaello-Madero, 956 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2020).

[9] Becky Bratu, Judge Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Ban in Puerto Rico, NBC News, Mar. 8, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/judge-upholds-same-sex-marriage-ban-puerto-rico-n534556.

[10] See Chris Geidner, Federal Appeals Court: Yes, Puerto Rico’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional, BuzzFeed, Apr. 7, 2016, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/chrisgeidner/federal-appeals-court-yes-puerto-ricos-same-sex-marriage-ban.

[11] See Conde-Vidal v. Garcia Padilla, No. 3:14-cv-01253 (D.P.R. Apr. 11, 2016).

[12] See Cortes-Ramos v. Sony Corp. of America, No. 14-1578 (D.P.R. 2015).

[13] See Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpi, El Poder Judicial Federal De Los Estados Confederados de America Durante El Periodo de la Guerra Civil (1861-1865), 46 Rev. D.P. 1 (2006).

[14] Gustavo A. Gelpi, Los Casos Insulares: Un Estudio Historio Comparativo de Puerto Rico, Hawaii Y Las Islas Filipinas, 45 Rev. Jur. U.I.P.R. 215 (August-May, 2010-2011).

[15] Gustavo A. Gelpi, Jr., The Maritime Law of Puerto Rico, 28 J. Mar. L. & Com. 647 (October 1997).

[16] Id.