Judge Doris Pryor – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Judge Doris Pryor, who has served as a federal magistrate judge on the Southern District of Indiana for the past five years, has been tapped for an appellate judgeship on the Seventh Circuit.

Background

Born in Hope, Arkansas, Pryor attended the University of Central Arkansas, getting a B.Sc. in 1999. She continued on to Indiana University Maurer School of Law, getting her J.D. in 2003.

After graduating law school, Pryor clerked for Judge Lavenski Smith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and for Judge J. Leon Holmes on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Pryor then spent a year as a public defender in Arkansas before becoming a federal prosecutor with the Southern District of Indiana.

In 2017, Pryor was appointed to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

History of the Seat

Pryor has been nominated for an Indiana seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This seat opened when Judge David Hamilton indicated his intention to take senior status upon confirmation of a successor.

Legal Career

Other than a year as a public defender, Pryor has spent her entire career pre-bench as a federal prosecutor in Southern Indiana.

Among the notable cases she has handled, Pryor has handled a number of appeals before the Seventh Circuit. See United States v. Hawkins, 480 F.3d 476 (7th Cir. 2007). For example, Pryor unsuccessfully sought to defend an Armed Career Criminal Act enhancement for a defendant convicted of felon in possession. United States v. Smith, 544 F.3d 781 (7th Cir. 2008). In another case that Pryor presented to the Seventh Circuit, the court remanded for further fact-finding on a Batson challenge after the only two African American jurors on a venire were struck. See United States v. Rutledge, 648 F.3d 555 (7th Cir. 2011).

Political Activity

Pryor has a single political contribution to her name, to Indiana gubernatorial candidate John Gregg in 2016.

Jurisprudence & Reversals

Since 2017, Pryor has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Indianapolis. In this role, she presides over settlement, preliminary hearings, bail, and any cases where the parties consent to her jurisdiction. Among the notable cases that Pryor has handled as a magistrate, she denied a motion by attorneys for the City of Indianapolis to strike expert testimony brought by a plaintiff who was attacked by a police dog while sitting in his backyard. See Mitchum v. City of Indianapolis, 534 F. Supp. 3d 1001 (S.D. Ind. 2021). In another case, she granted a defense motion to strike the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert, an oncologist who sought to discuss the standard of care in radiology. Lyons v. United States, 550 F. Supp. 3d 588 (S.D. Ind. 2021).

Overall Assessment

Judge Pryor enters the confirmation process with the support of Sen. Todd Young, one of Indiana’s Republican senators. This support should go a long way in smoothing the road for her, even if Indiana’s other senator, Sen. Michael Braun, chooses to oppose her.

As such, barring the unexpected, it is likely that Judge Pryor will be confirmed in the next few months.

Rachel Bloomekatz – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

In 2019, the Trump Administration nominated former Jones Day attorney Chad Readler to the Sixth Circuit. Now, the Biden Administration is seeking to tap one of Readler’s old associates, Columbus attorney Rachel Bloomekatz.

Background

Born December 3, 1982, Rachel Bloomekatz received a B.A. magna cum laude from Harvard University in 2004 and a J.D. from UCLA Law School in 2008 before clerking for Judge Guido Calabresi on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Chief Justice Margaret Marshall on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She then spent a year at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office before clerking for Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bloomekatz then spent two years at Jones Day before becoming a principal at the civil rights firm Gupta Wessler PLLC. Since 2019, Bloomekatz has been a solo practitioner at Bloomekatz Law LLC.

History of the Seat

Bloomekatz has been nominated for an Ohio seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. This seat opened in December 2021 with Judge Ransey Guy Cole’s announcement that he would move to senior status upon confirmation of a successor. Bloomekatz was nominated on May 25, 2022.

Legal Experience

Bloomekatz started her career as an associate at Jones Day. While at the firm, she worked with future Sixth Circuit Judge Chad Readler in challenging the granting of class certification to a series of suits brought against Proctor & Gamble for alleged deceptive marketing of probiotic digestive supplements. See Rikos v. P.G., 799 F.3d 497 (6th Cir. 2015). The grant was affirmed 2-1 by the Sixth Circuit. See id.

From 2016 to 2019, Bloomekatz worked as a principal at Gupta Wessler PLLC. At Gupta Wessler, Bloomekatz particularly worked on a number of election law cases, including successfully suing to allow 17 year olds to vote in the 2016 primary elections. See Tom LoBianco, In Victory for Sanders, Ohio Judge Says 17-Year-Olds Can Vote in Primary, CNN, Mar. 11, 2016. Bloomekatz’s expertise in election law also resulted in her appointment by the Sixth Circuit as amicus. See In re 2016 Primary Election, 836 F.3d 584, 586 (6th Cir. 2016) (Sutton, J.) (noting that Bloomekatz “admirably” defended the district court order after appointment from the court).

Additionally, Bloomekatz represented Brandon Moore in challenging a sentence of 112 years in prison for a series of convictions arising from an incident when he was 15 years old. Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Teen Rapist Given 112-Year Sentence Appeals to Top Court, A.P., Feb. 4, 2015. The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the sentence as unconstitutional in a 4-3 vote. See Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Teen Rapist’s 112-Year Sentence, A.P., Dec. 22, 2016.

Bloomekatz also represented the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in multiple suits involving harms from tobacco, see Graham v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 857 F.3d 1169 (11th Cir. 2017), and beverages. See Am. Bev. Ass’n v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 916 F.3d 749 (9th Cir. 2019) (en banc).

Since 2019, Bloomekatz has served as a solo practitioner based in Columbus. During her time as a solo practitioner, Bloomekatz has notably represented parents in a suit against the Madison Local School District over their plan to arm teachers without conducting law enforcement training otherwise required. See Gabbard v. Madison Local Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 153 N.E.3d 471 (Ohio App. 2020). The policy was ultimately struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court. See Louise Hall, Teachers Must Have Police Training to Carry Guns at School, Ohio’s Top Court Rules, The Independent, June 24, 2021. Bloomekatz has also filed suit against Ohio’s “Stand Your Ground” law for violating the state’s single-subject rule and three-day consideration provisions. See Anna Staver, Group Challenges Ohio’s Stand Your Ground Law, Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 10, 2021.

Statements and Writings

Like a number of other judicial nominees, Bloomekatz authored a law review note as a student. Her paper discusses the protections that immigrants have from employment discrimination and exploitation. See Rachel Bloomekatz, Rethinking Immigration Status Discrimination and Exploitation in the Low-Wage Workplace, 54 UCLA L. Rev. 1963 (August 2007). The comment discusses various applications of particular federal statutes on discrimination based on immigration status, including discrimination against U.S.-born workers. In the paper, Bloomekatz suggests that an expansion of Section 1981, which bars racial discrimination in contracting, to cover alienage discrimination, is the best legal tool to address such issues. Id. at 1989-90.

Political Activity

Bloomekatz has been a frequent political contributor throughout her career. Among the recipients of her donations are President Biden, Senator Sherrod Brown, and Hillary Clinton.

Additionally, Bloomekatz has worked as counsel for the campaigns of several Ohio Democrats, including Brown. Bloomekatz also served for the campaign of Danny O’Connor, who narrowly lost a house seat to Rep. Troy Balderson in 2018.

Overall Assessment

For her part, Bloomekatz, at 39, is the youngest Biden appointee to the federal appellate bench so far. However, her youth belies extensive experience with both trial and appellate litigation. Furthermore, given that a number of members of her clerk class at the Supreme Court were appointed to the federal bench under Trump, senators are unlikely to gain much traction by arguing that Bloomekatz is under-qualified for the federal bench.

This is not to say that Bloomekatz will not face strong opposition. Her role in election litigation, as well as her work on firearms regulations, are likely to draw particular fire, and Bloomekatz will likely face a hotly contested confirmation. Nonetheless, with the support of Sen. Sherrod Brown, Bloomekatz is nonetheless favored to join the bench before the end of the session.

Judge Florence Pan – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

In 2021, D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan joined the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. With Jackson now joining the Supreme Court, Pan has been tapped to replace her on the appellate bench.

Background

Born in 1966, Florence Yu Pan graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988 and then received her J.D. cum laude from Stanford Law School in 1993.

After graduating, Pan clerked for Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and for Judge Ralph Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before joining the Department of Justice as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General. Pan then worked in the Department of Treasury between 1998 and 1999.

In 1999, Pan became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. She stayed with the office until her appointment by President Obama to the D.C. Superior Court in 2009.

On April 28, 2016, Pan was nominated by President Barack Obama to become a U.S. District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Reggie Walton. However, her nomination was not processed by the U.S. Senate, which was then under Republican control, and after President Donald Trump was elected, he nominated Dabney Freidrich to fill the vacancy.

On March 24, 2021, President Biden renominated Pan to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was being elevated to the D.C. Circuit. Pan was confirmed 68-30 on September 22, 2021 and has served on the court since.

History of the Seat

The seat Pan has been nominated for will open upon the end of the current Supreme Court term, when Judge Ketanji Jackson will leave her seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to replace Justice Stephen Breyer.

Legal Experience

Pan started her legal career as a clerk to Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and then for Judge Ralph Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Since then, Pan worked for the federal government until her appointment to the D.C. Superior Court, going from the Department of Justice to the Department of the Treasury to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. During her tenure, Pan tried around forty cases, half of which were jury trials.

Among the significant matters that she worked on, Pan argued before the en banc D.C. Circuit in support of the police partially unzipping the jacket of a suspect during a Terry stop. See U.S. v. Askew, 529 F.3d 1119 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (en banc). The D.C. Circuit ruled against her on the issue, finding that the facts surrounding the stop did not create reasonable suspicion for unzipping the jacket. See id.

Pan also argued in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals in defending a conviction against a defendant alleging an insanity defense to killing her child. See McNeil v. United States, 933 A.2d 354 (D.C. 2007). The D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, finding that the prosecutor below improperly used the defendant’s invocation of her Miranda rights to argue that she was sane. See id. at 369.

Judicial Experience

From 2009 to 2021, Pan has served as a Judge on the D.C. Superior Court. She started her time in the court on a Felony docket, but has since served on the Family, Misdemeanor, and Civil dockets as well.

While serving on the Felony docket, Pan presided over a number of prosecutions of violent offenders, frequently handing out significant sentences, including a 15-year-sentence for a man who assaulted a victim in LeDroit Park, a 12-year-sentence for a man who stabbed the victim in Southeast D.C., and a 60-year-sentence to Antwon Pitt, who sexually assaulted a woman in Southeast D.C. as part of two home invasions. On the civil side, Pan dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Center for Inquiry against Walmart for selling homeopathic medicines.

In her twelve years on the bench, a handful of Pan’s rulings have been reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals. In two cases, Pan presided over convictions for assault with significant bodily injury that were reversed because the Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence of significant injury. Compare In re D.P., 122 A.3d 903 (D.C. 2015) with Quintanilla v. United States, 62 A.3d 1261 (D.C. 2013). On the civil side, in 2020, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed Pan’s decision not to award treble damages in a wage-and-hour suit, finding that she had no discretion not to award the damages. Sivaraman v. Guizzetti & Associates., 228 A.3d 1066 (D.C. 2020).

Since September 23, 2021, Pan has been a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Despite her relatively brief tenure on the court, Pan has nonetheless handled a number of prominent cases.

Most notably, Pan has sentenced a number of defendants as part of the January 6 prosecutions. For example, she sentenced James Wayne Entrekin, who plead guilty of entering the Capitol without permission, to 45 days in jail, rejecting a prosecutorial request for 105 days in jail and a defense request for probation. See Marisa Sarnoff, Man Who Dressed as ‘Captain Moroni’ from Mormon Sacred Text on Jan. 6 Tells Judge He Still Believes Election Results Were ‘Tampered’ With, Gets Jail Time, Newstex Blogs, May 6, 2022.

Among other matters, Pan denied an emergency injunction to Philip Morris, who was seeking to challenge an FDA regulation on cigarette warning labels, ruling that there was no imminent harm as the regulation would not kick in for another year. See Lauren Berg, Philip Morris Can’t Block Cig Warning Rule Set For Late 2022, Law360, Oct. 27, 2021. Pan also granted a request by the State of Washington to pause a lawsuit alleging that the state permitted a monopoly on gambling activity in the state. See Humberto J. Rocha, DC Judge Pauses Tribal ‘Monopoly’ Suit for Washington State, Law360, Mar. 17, 2022. She subsequently transferred the lawsuit to the Western District of Washington, ruling that she lacked personal jurisdiction over the state defendants. See Khorri Atkinson, DC Judge Lacks Jurisdiction in Tribal Gambling Monopoly Suit, Law360, Apr. 28, 2022.

Political Activity

Pan made a $500 contribution to the Presidential Campaign of John Kerry in 2004, her only contribution of record. Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=florence+pan&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited Apr. 1, 2021).

Overall Assessment

Pan’s 68-30 confirmation in 2021 was a landslide by the standards that most Biden Administration nominees have seen. Her nomination to the D.C. Circuit is likely intended to produce a similar comfortable confirmation for a seat that Administration must fill. While Pan is likely to face significantly more opposition for this seat, she will nonetheless likely be confirmed without too much controversy.

Lara Montecalvo – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Lara Montecalvo, appointed to be public defender in Rhode Island, after her predecessor was appointed to the bench, looks likely to follow suit.

Background

The 48-year-old Montecalvo received a B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1996 and her J.D. from Boston College Law School in 2000. After graduating, Montecalvo spent four years in the Tax Division of the United States Department of Justice before joining the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office. Montecalvo joined the Office’s Appellate Division, and was appointed its head in 2014, and the official Public Defender in 2020.

History of the Seat

Montecalvo has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This seat opened when Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson announced her desire to take senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.

Legal Experience

While Montecalvo started her legal career at the Department of Justice where she worked primarily in bankrupctcy, see, e.g., In re. Claxton, 335 B.R. 680 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2002), she has spent the past 18 years at the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, where she has represented indigent defendants. Montecalvo started her time at the office as a trial attorney, representing Rachin McCoy, who was sentenced to life in prison for the death of his baby daughter, after he beat her under the influence of marijuana. See Mark Reynolds, Man Gets Life in Daughter’s Death, Providence Journal, Oct. 20, 2011.

Since 2010, Montecalvo has primarily handled appeals, including serving as Chief of the Appellate Division from 2014 to 2020, when Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Montecalvo to be Rhode Island’s Public Defender, replacing Mary McElroy, who was appointed to the federal bench. Donita Taylor, Masked R.I. Senate Panel Confirms Nominee for Public Defender, Providence Journal, May 28, 2020. Among the appeals, she has handled:

  • The Supreme Court overturned a conviction for Possession with Intent to Distribute based on a prosecutor cross-examining the Defendant based on false information about his criminal history. See State v. Price, 68 A.3d 440 (R.I. 2013). See also Tracy Breton, Drug Conviction Flawed, State’s High Court Rules, Providence Journal, June 24, 2013.
  • The Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction where the defendant had been improperly barred from cross-examining a detective who had interviewed him. State v. Arciliares, 108 A.3d 1040 (R.I. 2015).
  • The Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction, finding that evidence obtained through a warrantless search of the man’s home should have been suppressed. See State v. Gonzalez, 136 A.3d 1131 (R.I. 2016). See also Katie Mulvaney, Man’s Conviction in 2012 Warwick Murder Overturned in Court Ruling; State Supreme Court Says Search of Home, Arrest Were Both Faulty, Providence Journal, Mar. 30, 2016.
  • The Supreme Court upheld a conviction for sexual assault, finding that the defendant had validly waived his Miranda rights. State v. Sabourin, 161 A.3d 1132 (R.I. 2017).
  • The Supreme Court upheld a conviction for second degree murder, finding that the prosecutor’s reference to the defendant as a “scam artist” and a “career thief” were not improper given the defendant’s criminal history. State v. Lastarza, 203 A.3d 1159 (R.I. 2019).
  • The Supreme Court overturned a conviction after a prosecutor improperly claimed in closing arguments that the defendant “stared down” the victim in court. State v. Bozzo, 223 A.3d 755 (R.I. 2020). Barry Bridges, New Trial Required Due to Extraneous Closing Comments, Opinion Digest, Jan. 23, 2020.

Additionally, as Public Defender, Montecalvo has continued a partnership between her office and the Lifespan Transitions Clinic, which has worked since 2018 to help provide healthcare for individuals transitioning from prison into the community. Katie Mulvaney, Breaking the Cycle: First-of-its-Kind Partnership Aims to Help Repeat Offenders By Bringing Medical Perspective to Criminal Trials, Providence Journal, May 30, 2021.

Writings

In 2016, Montecalvo coauthored a paper with two other appellate attorneys in Rhode Island discussing the Rhode Island probation system. See Lara Montecalvo, Kara Maguire, and Angela Yingling, No Exit, No End: Probation in Rhode Island, 21 Roger Williams U. L. Rev. 316 (Spring 2016). The article discusses the challenges in the probation system in Rhode Island and recommends a number of legal and policy changes. Id. at 318. Among the changes it recommends, the article suggests that the burden of proof in probation hearings be raised from the “reasonable satisfaction” standard to “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “preponderance of the evidence.” Id. at 340-41. The article also recommends capping terms of probation. Id. at 351.

Overall Assessment

Biden’s judicial nominees have been particularly notable for their large proportion of public defenders, and Montecalvo joins that trend. Montecalvo’s record shows a strong understanding of Rhode Island criminal law, and, suggests little that would threaten a smooth Senate confirmation.

Judge Sarah Merriam – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

After only about six months on the federal district court bench, Judge Sarah Merriam is now poised for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Background

Sarah A.L. Merriam earned her B.A. from Georgetown University in 1993 and her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2000. After graduating law school, Merriam joined the Hartford office of Cowdery, Ecker, & Murphy as an Associate. In 2007, Merriam moved to the public sector as an Assistant Federal Defender, staying in the office for eight years. In 2015, Merriam was chosen to be a federal magistrate judge, replacing Judge Holly Fitzsimmons.

On June 15, 2021, President Joseph Biden nominated Merriam to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Merriam was confirmed by the Senate on October 6, 2021 and has served as a U.S. District Court judge since.

History of the Seat

Merriam has been nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a seat to be vacated upon confirmation (likely by Judge Susan Carney).

Legal Career

Merriam started her legal career as an associate at Cowdery, Ecker, & Murphy, where she worked alongside partner Steven Ecker, who now serves on the Connecticut Supreme Court. Among the cases that Merriam and Ecker worked on together, they represented Directors of Reflexite Corp. in defending against a suit alleging that they violated their fiduciary duties to the corporation. See Frank v. LoVetere, 363 F. Supp. 2d 327 (D. Conn. 2005).

From 2007 to 2014, Merriam worked in the Office of the Federal Defender, representing indigent defendants in Connecticut federal court. Among the cases she handled with the office, Merriam represented Michael Danzi, one of two brothers charged with participating in a drug distribution ring importing marijuana from Canada. United States v. Danzi, 726 F. Supp. 2d 109 (D. Conn. 2009).

Jurisprudence

Merriam served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since her appointment in 2015, where she handles detention, discovery disputes, misdemeanors, and social security/benefits cases. As an example of a matter she handled, Merriam affirmed an administrative decision denying disability benefits for Dana Poole, finding that substantial evidence supported the determination that Poole’s disabilities were not sufficiently severe to qualify her for the benefits. Poole v. Saul, 462 F. Supp.3d 137 (D. Conn. 2020).

In another notable decision, Merriam ruled against the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, finding that the plaintiffs had not shown that Connecticut’s petitioning requirements were overly burdensome on the party. Libertarian Party of Conn. v. Merrill, 470 F. Supp. 3d (D. Conn. 2020).

Since October 2021, Merriam has served as a U.S. District Judge. In her limited tenure as a District Judge, Merriam presided over the corruption trial of State Rep. Michael DiMassa, accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars of epidemic relief money. See Chris Powell, Corruption in Connecticut Switches Political Parties, Manchester Journal Enquirer, Oct. 27, 2021. Merriam also presided over a suit by Yale Law students alleging retaliation for their refusal to lie in a faculty investigation, in which she declined to allow the plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously.. See Eugene Volokh, No Pseudonymity in Yale Law School DinnerPartyGate Lawsuit, Volokh Conspiracy, Jan. 19, 2022.

In other rulings, Merriam found that a Federal Tort Claims Act suit brought by a Honduran immigrant was outside the statute of limitations. See Grace Dixon, Honduran Migrant’s Rape Case Against ICE Agent Too Late, Law360, Mar. 29, 2022.

Overall Assessment

Merriam’s initial confirmation to the bench was relatively uncontentious, even though she still drew opposition from the vast majority of Senate Republicans. While Merriam may draw 2-3 Republican votes for elevation at most, she is still favored for confirmation.

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 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.

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.

Arianna Freeman – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

After Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s reversal on blue slips in the Trump Administration, he processed and confirmed three Trump nominees to the Third Circuit over the objections of their home state senators. With the shoe now on the other foot, Arianna Freeman looks strongly favored to join the Third Circuit, even without the support of her home-state senator.

Background

Arianna J. Freeman received her B.A. with Honors from Swarthmore College in 2001 and J.D. from Yale Law School in 2007. Freeman then clerked for Judges C. Darnell Jones and James Giles on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

After her clerkships, Freeman joined the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Philadelphia. Freeman has stayed with the office since then, currently serving as managing attorney.

History of the Seat

Freeman has been nominated for a Pennsylvania seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which will be vacated by Judge Theodore McKee upon the confirmation of the successor.

Legal Experience

Freeman has spent her entire legal career as an indigent defender, serving in various capacities with the Federal Community Defender’s Office, including her current role as managing director.

Among the matter she handled with the office, Freeman persuaded a district judge to grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, noting that the prisoner had suffered ineffective assistance of counsel when his counsel failed to raise on appeal a claim that his judge had improperly closed the courtroom for his trial. See Tucker v. Werenowicz, 98 F. Supp. 3d 760 (E.D. Pa. 2015). However, the ruling was subsequently overturned by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. See Tucker v. Superintendent Graterford SCI, 677 Fed. Appx. 768 (3d Cir. 2017).

Freeman also argued a number of appeals before the Third Circuit in her role. See, e.g., Norris v. Brooks, 794 F.3d 401 (3d Cir. 2015). In one notable case, Freeman persuaded the Third Circuit to grant habeas relief to a defendant whose Confrontation Rights were violated when the trial court admitted a co-defendant’s confession, which the prosecution improperly acknowledged implicated the defendant. See Brown v. Sci, 834 F.3d 506 (3d Cir. 2016).

Outside the habeas context, Freeman unsuccessfully argued before the Third Circuit that the district court acted correctly in finding a defendant to not be a “career offender” under the Armed Career Criminal Act. See United States v. Ramos, 892 F.3d 599 (3d Cir. 2018).

Overall Assessment

Despite her youth, Freeman has established herself as one of the foremost advocates for the indigent in eastern Pennsylvania. Additionally, Freeman does not have a paper trail of controversial stances that might emperil Democratic support for her nomination. As such, Freeman is strongly favored for confirmation to the Third Circuit.

Judge J. Michelle Childs – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

Judge Juliana Michelle Childs has spent approximately fifteen years on the state and federal bench in South Carolina. While she was a frontrunner for a Fourth Circuit vacancy in her home state, Childs is currently nominated to a seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit.

Background

Julianna Michelle Childs was born in Detroit on March 24, 1966. Childs graduated from the University of South Florida in 1988 and from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1991. After graduating, Childs joined the Columbia office of Nexsen Pruet, LLC. where she became the firm’s first African American partner.

In 2000, Childs was named by Gov. Jim Hodges to be deputy director of the labor division of the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing, & Regulations. In 2002, Childs was named to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.

In 2006, Childs was selected to be a Circuit Court judge on the Richland County bench. In 2010, Childs was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Childs has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The seat will open at the move to senior status of Judge David Tatel.

Political Activity

Childs has a limited political history, largely consisting of a single donation to Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1999.

Legal Career

Childs started her legal career at the firm of Nexsen Pruet before moving on to the South Carolina Department of Labor and the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Childs worked at Nexsen Pruet between 1992 and 2000, including serving as the firm’s first African American Partner. At the firm, Childs worked on employment, business litigation, and family law. She also tried over twenty cases before a jury. Among these trials, Childs represented Bamberg County in a suit brought by the estate of an inmate at the Bamberg County Detention Center after he committed suicide in his cell. See Stanley v. Bamberg County, 1997-CP-05-19. After a hung jury, the case settled. On the federal side, Childs represented L&L Wings, Inc. in a Title VII discrimination lawsuit, which ended with a jury verdict for the plaintiffs on one claim of retaliation and claims of sexual harassment, with the defendants winning other claims. See Harris and Prasky v. L&L Wings, Inc., 132 F.3d 978 (4th Cir. 1997).

Childs served on the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission after her appointment in 2002 to 2006. In that role, Childs adjudicated issues of compensation, disability, benefits, and workplace injury. During her tenure, the Commission voted to eliminate the positions of Court Reporters to reduce expenditures, and the reporters filed suit. See Morris v. South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission et al., No. 26201 (S.C. Aug. 21, 2006). While a trial judge sided with the reporters, the South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously reversed. See id.

Jurisprudence

Since her unanimous confirmation in 2010, Childs has served as a federal district judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. In addition, Childs was a state court judge between 2006 and 2010. Some of the cases she has presided over are summarized below.

State Bench

Childs served on the Richland County Circuit Court between 2006 and 2010, during which time she presided over both criminal and civil matters in a court of general jurisdiction. During her tenure, Childs presided over approximately 42 jury trials and 8 bench trials. For example, Childs presided over a $3.5 million verdict for a plaintiff struck by a motor vehicle operator due to the alleged negligence of the South Carolina Department of Transportation. See Cohen v. S.C. Dep’t of Trans., 2005-CP-27-188. In another notable decisions on the state bench, Childs dismissed a re-indictment based on allegations of molestation by the victim’s stepfather. See State v. Gerald Williamson, 2006-CP-40-2803. Childs found that a ten year delay in the indictment of the case unduly prejudiced the Defendant and justified the dismissal.

Childs also sat as Acting Justice for the South Carolina Supreme Court on occasion, including in one case where she reversed a circuit court’s failure to sustain a Batson challenge after a juror was struck due to objections based on their dreadlocks. See McCrea v. Gheraibeh, 669 S.E.2d 333 (S.C. 2008).

Election Law

Childs has made multiple key rulings on issues of election law. In 2011, Childs rejected a challenge to South Carolina’s open primary law brought by the Greenville County Republican Party, ruling that the open primary did not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments. See Greenville Cnty. Repub. Party Exec. Comm. v. South Carolina , 824 F. Supp. 2d 655 (D.S.C. 2011).

In another notable decision, Childs struck down South Carolina’s absentee ballot witness requirements, finding the requirements to violate voters’ rights given the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Childs’ ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which reinstated the requirement. See Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Revives Witness Requirement for South Carolina Absentee Ballots, N.Y. Times, Oct. 6, 2020.

Sitting by Designation on Fourth Circuit

During her time on the district court, Childs sat by designation numerous times on the Fourth Circuit. Among her decisions in so sitting, Childs joined the court in reversing a grant of summary judgment to defendants in a Title VII action, noting that the denial of a better severance package could constitute an adverse employment action under Title VII. See Gerner v. Cnty. of Chesterfield, 674 F.3d 264 (4th Cir. 2012). In another opinion, Childs joined a unanimous court in affirming a life imprisonment sentence for a defendant convicted of drug trafficking. U.S. v. Edmonds, 679 F.3d 169 (4th Cir. 2012).

Writings and Statements

Throughout her life and career, Childs has frequently commented on the law and her role as judge. For example, as a state court judge, Childs authored one of a collection of letters published by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, in which she discussed her rise to become a judge. See Judge J. Michelle Childs, The Letter and the Spirit, 48 Judges’ Journal 23 (Fall 2009). In the piece, Childs notes that a judges is a “public citizen who bears a special responsibility for the quality of our justice system.” and adds: “[Judges] are charged with the spirit as well as the letter of the law in orderly decision making.” Id. at 26.

Overall Assessment

As an appellate nominee, Childs is hard to challenge as well qualified, with more than a decade on the federal bench and three decades of legal experience. However, the key backdrop to Childs’ nomination is the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Stephen Breyer. It is an open secret that Childs is being considered for the Supreme Court (although sources vary on how strongly) and that she is the preferred candidate of GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the few Senate Republicans to consistently support Biden judicial nominees.

Regardless of whether Childs is nominated for the high court or remains pending for the D.C. Circuit, her nomination is likely to face the same fate, a comfortable confirmation with a handful of GOP senators in support.