Ana Reyes – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Williams & Connolly Partner Ana Reyes, nominated for the federal district court in D.C., would be the first Hispanic woman and the first LGBTQ judge on the District of D.C.

Background

Born in Uruguay, Ana Reyes received her B.A. from Transylvania University in 1996 and then spent a year organizing against California Proposition 209 (which barred affirmative action in public employment) before joining Harvard Law School for her J.D.

After graduating, Reyes clerked for Judge Amalya Kearse on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then joined the D.C. office of Williams & Connolly, where she currently works as a Partner.

History of the Seat

The seat Reyes has been nominated for will open upon the move of Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to senior status.

Legal Experience

Other than her position as a clerk, Reyes has spent her entire career at Williams & Connolly, where she works in civil litigation and arbitration. Reyes has notably worked on a number of international disputes, including representing Spain in a dispute over the withdrawal of economic incentives for renewable projects. See Clark Mindock, Spain Wins Pause of $66M Energy Investor Award, Law360, Apr. 1, 2021.

In other matters, Reyes was part of the legal team challenging the Trump Administration’s restrictions on refugees entering the United States through ports of entry. See O.A. v. Trump, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 242294 (D.D.C. Nov. 20, 2018); see also Court Strikes Down Trump Administration Policy Barring Refugees From Asylum, States News Service, Aug. 2, 2019. Reyes has also been active in asylum representation on a pro bono basis, including the representation of three African women fleeing genital mutilation in Guinea. See African Women Win Appeal to Deportation, Washington Informer, July 10, 2008.

Statements and Writings

In 2011, Reyes authored an article discussing her experiences working with a family that was seeking to escape torture and mutilation in their home country. See Ana C. Reyes, Representing Torture Victims and Other Asylum Seekers, 37 Litigation 23 (Summer 2011). Reyes closed the piece by noting that representing torture victims and asylum seekers was a way for lawyers “to fundamentally change lives.” Id. at 27.

Overall Assessment

While Reyes’ background in international arbitration and civil litigation is unlikely to draw much fire as a judicial nominee, some senators may look askance at her suits against the Trump Administration. As such, while Reyes is favored for the bench, she may nonetheless have a rocky road to confirmation.

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

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

Background

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

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

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

History of the Seat

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

Legal Experience

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

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

Jurisprudence

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

Overall Assessment

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

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

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

Background

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

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

History of the Seat

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

Legal Experience

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

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

Writings and Statements

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

Overall Assessment

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

History of the Seat

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

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

Legal Experience

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

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

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

Political Activity & Memberships

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

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

Overall Assessment

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

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

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

Background

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

History of the Seat

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

Legal Experience

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

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

Writings

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

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

Political Activity

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

Overall Assessment

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

History of the Seat

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

Legal Experience

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

Jurisprudence

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

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

Writings

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

Political Activity

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

Overall Assessment

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

Judge Ana de Alba – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California

The Eastern District of California is one of the most heavily overworked courts in the country. The Court has not been expanded in decades, even as caseloads explode, and has relied heavily on senior judges to carry the burden. In an effort to bring some relief, President Biden has nominated state judge Ana de Alba.

Background

A native Californian, de Alba received her B.A. from the University of California Berkeley in 2002 and her J.D. in 2007 from the UC Berkeley School of Law. While a law student, de Alba worked with elementary and middle school students on mock trials. See Minerva Perez, Pupils Convene Court, Los Banos Enterprise, Mar. 30, 2007 After law school, de Alba joined Lang Richet & Patch PC. She also continued her work with mock trial. Thaddeus Miller, Mock Trial Enlightens View of Future for Los Banos Sixth-Graders, Los Banos Enterprise, Mar. 16, 2012. In 2018, de Alba was appointed to the Fresno County Superior Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

de Alba has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, to a seat vacated on December 17, 2019 by Judge Morrison England. On May 21, 2020, the Trump Administration nominated attorney Dirk Paloutzian to replace England, but he was not confirmed before the end of the 116th Congress. de Alba was nominated on January 19, 2022.

Legal Experience

de Alba spent her entire career before becoming a judge at Lang Richet & Patch PC. Among her work there, de Alba represented a credit union in a suit by borrowers alleging promissory fraud that went up to the California Supreme Court. See Riverisland Cold Storage Inc. v. Fresno-Madera Product, 55 Cal. 4th 1169 (Cal. 2013). The California Supreme Court overruled a prior ruling limiting the use of “parol evidence” (evidence of verbal or written agreements outside the language of a contract) in cases of promissory fraud. See id. at 1172. Additionally, while at the firm, de Alba received the Jack Berman Award of Achievement from the California Young Lawyers’ Association in 2012 for her pro bono work, including serving on the Board of Directors for Central California Legal Services, Inc. California Lawyers, Judges to Receive Awards for Legal Service and Excellence, Targeted News Service, Oct. 4, 2012.

Jurisprudence

Since 2018, de Alba has served as a Superior Court judge in Fresno County. In this role, she presides over civil, criminal, and domestic cases. Among the matters she handled on the bench, de Alba presided over a suit by the American Chemistry Council alleging that California had improperly listed SPF systems using methylene diphenyl diisocynates (MDI) as priority products for the state’s green chemistry program, restricting their commercial use. See Judge Questions Core ACC Claim in Suit Over DTSC Spray Foam Listing, Inside Cal/EPA, Jan. 15, 2021. de Alba ordered the delisting of the challenged products, while rejecting three other challenges. Judge Scraps California DTSC’s Spray Polyeurethane Foam Listing, Inside Cal/EPA, Apr. 2, 2021. California’s appeal of the ruling is currently pending. California Urges Appellate Court to Uphold Green Chemistry Product Listing, Inside Cal/EPA, Feb. 4, 2022.

Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, de Alba gained some news attention for her rulings relating to scheduling and court compliance. In one ruling, de Alba refused to extend or excuse deadlines for a defendant’s community service, noting that she had seen no evidence that the defendant had worked towards the service before the pandemic hit. See Jeannette Parada, COVID-19 or No COVID-19, Fresno Judge Wants Defendant’s Community Service Done – Or It’s Jail, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, June 29, 2020. In another case, de Alba withdrew bench warrants that had been issued for defendants who failed to appear, noting that they did not have access to steady housing or transportation, and allowed them to participate virtually. See Phoebe Glick, Coronavirus Court Precautions Can Lead to Unforeseen Complications, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Aug. 7, 2020.

In other rulings, de Alba found probable cause that a defendant had committed an act of domestic violence based on the testimony of the reporting officer. See Angelina Caplanis, Defender Argues Victim Lied on 911 Call; Judge Still Finds Probable Cause for Arrest, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, July 15, 2020.

Overall Assessment

Despite her youth, de Alba has built a significant amount of experience on issues of criminal and civil law. It will be interesting to see if her rulings during the Covid-19 pandemic are questioned, either on the right or the left, during confirmation.

Robert Huie – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California is currently short five judges. Having appointed two judges to the court already, the Biden Administration is slowly naming candidates for the remaining vacancies, including Jones Day partner Robert Huie.

Background

Robert S. Huie received his B.A. from Calvin University, a private evangelical university in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1998 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2002.

After law school, Huie spent a year at Wiggin Dana before clerking for Judge Jose Cabranes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Huie then joined Latham & Watkins as a civil litigator.

In 2008, Huie became an Assistant United States Attorney based in San Diego. In 2020, he moved to become a Partner at Jones Day, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

Huie has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on October 31, 2018, by Judge Michael Anello’s move to senior status. On November 21, 2019, President Trump nominated federal prosecutor Michelle Pettit to fill this vacancy. However, Pettit was not processed by the Senate Judiciary Committee before the end of the Trump Administration.

On January 19, 2022, President Biden nominated Huie to fill this seat.

Legal Experience

Throughout his career, Huie has worked both as a federal prosecutor and in private practice at a number of different law firms. In the latter capacity, Huie has worked as part of lawsuits related to insurance payouts from the September 11 terrorist attacks. See, e.g., S.R. Int’l Bus. Ins. Co. v. World Trade Ctr. Props. LLC., 467 F.3d 107 (2d Cir. 2006).

Notably, as a federal prosecutor, Huie was one of the leading prosecutors in the Fat Leonard scandal, in which 33 people were charged as part of a conspiracy to bribe U.S. Navy officials in exchange for classified intelligence. See Craig Whitlock, ‘Fat Leonard’ Probe Expands to Ensnare More than 60 Admirals, Wash. Post, Nov. 5, 2017. Huie’s work led to a number of guilty pleas, including of U.S. Navy Commander Jose Luis Sanchez. See Elliot Spagat, Navy Official is Highest Yet to Plead Guilty in Bribery Case, A.P. State & Local, Jan. 7, 2015. In other matters, Huie prosecuted Terry Lee Steward for threatening judges who presided over his medical malpractice case. Man Gets Time Served and Home Detention for Threatening to Kill Judges, City News Service, Feb. 28, 2011.

Overall Assessment

While the Biden Administration has generally sought out “unconventional” backgrounds in their judicial nominees, Huie, a former federal prosecutor and current biglaw partner, represents a brand of nominees that generally skated to confirmation in the past. While Huie may still draw some opposition, he is likely to be confirmed comfortably nonetheless.

Natasha Merle – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

The Biden Administration has tapped attorneys from many prominent civil rights organizations for the bench. Eastern District nominee Natasha Merle, who works for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is part of this trend.

Background

Merle attended the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 2005. Merle then attended New York University Law School, graduating in 2008. She then clerked for Judge Robert Carter on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York before joining the Gulf Region Advocacy Center.

After two years at the Advocacy Center, Center became a federal public defender in the Eastern District of New York and then clerked for Judge John Gleeson on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She then joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she currently serves as deputy director of litigation.

History of the Seat

Merle has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This seat opened on February 1, 2021 by statute because Judge Roslynn Mauskopf was designated to the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

Legal Experience

Merle has held a number of legal positions throughout her career, although she has spent the majority of it at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Early in her career, Merle spent a year as a federal public defender, where she worked on appeals. See, e.g., People v. Rowser, 139 A.3d 489 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).

Merle has been with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund since 2013. Notably, she was part of the legal team representing Duane Bell, a Texas man whose death sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court because of racially prejudiced comments presented by a defense expert during the sentencing phase of his trial. See Buck v. Davis, 137 S. Ct. 759 (2017). In a media statement, Merle noted that the case was about whether a state could execute someone after a sentencing infected with “racial bias.” Feliks Garcia, Supreme Court Slams Texas Man’s ‘Racially Tainted’ Death Sentence, Calls It “Indefensible”; The Jury’s Decision Hinged on Expert Witness Testimony That Claimed That Black People Were Statistically More Prone to Violent Criminal Behavior, The Independent, Oct. 5, 2016.

In additional matters, Merle was part of the legal team suing Alabama over its voter ID law, and argued the case before the Eleventh Circuit. Mallory Moensch, Civil Rights Groups Appeal Alabama Voter ID Ruling, A.P. State & Local, Feb. 22, 2018. See also Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, 250 F. Supp. 3d 1238 (N.D. Ala. 2017). She also brought suit against Arkansas for vote dilution of black voters in judicial elections. See Frazier v. Kelley, 460 F. Supp. 3d 799 (E.D. Ark. 2020).

In non-voting matters, Merle sued on behalf of black communities in Philadelphia over excessive force used during protests over police brutality in 2020. See Ellie Silverman and Mike Newall, Trump: May Send Officers to Phila.; It Was Among Cities He Named as He Lauded Use of Force Against Oregon Protesters. Kenney Said They Are Not Wanted Here, Philadelphia Daily News, July 21, 2020. She also sued the Alamance County Sheriff for allegedly using excessive force against protesters. See Isaac Groves, Second Lawsuit Charges Sheriff, Police with Suppressing Vote, Times-News, Nov. 9, 2020.

Statements and Writings

In her role at the NAACP LDF, Merle has frequently written and commented on the law, particularly in relation to pending litigation. For example, Merle noted, in connection with a lawsuit against President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, that “[a]llegations of voter fraud have historically been used to target minority voters and deprive them full access to the franchise.” See Press Release, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, LDF, Local Alabama Organization File Federal Lawsuit Challenging President’s ‘Election Integrity’ Commission, Targeted News Service, July 18, 2017.

Additionally, Merle has also submitted letters to government officials, for example, sending a letter to the Texas Secretary of State asking for additional efforts to accommodate voting for those internally displaced by Hurricane Harvey. See Sam Levine, Civil Rights Group Threatens Texas If It Doesn’t Protect Voting Rights of Hurricane Victims, Huffington Post, Oct. 13, 2017.

Overall Assessment

Like many of her colleagues tapped for the bench and executive positions, Merle is likely to see strong opposition. Nonetheless, given Democrats’ relative discipline on judicial nominations, Merle is still favored to join the bench by the summer.

Nusrat Choudhury – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Nominated to the federal bench in January, Choudhury has already attracted attention for being the first female Muslim federal judicial nominee. Aside from the historic significance, Choudhury also makes a notable nominee for a significant paper trail of litigation and statements on hotly contested issues.

Background

Born in 1976 in a Bangladeshi American family, Choudhury earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1998, an M.P.A. from Princeton in 2006 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 2006. She then clerked for Judge Denise Cote on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and then for Judge Barrington Daniels Parker on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

After her clerkships, Choudhury joined the ACLU, staying with the organization until the present day. In her time there, Choudhury has transitioned through the National Security Project and the Racial Justice Program before her current role as Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

History of the Seat

Choudhury has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This seat opened when Joseph Bianco was elevated to the Second Circuit on May 17, 2019. On February 12, 2020, the Trump Administration nominated Saritha Komatireddy to fill this vacancy, but she never received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On September 1, 2021, Choudhury was recommended for a nomination by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to the White House. She was nominated on January 19, 2022.

Legal Experience

Choudhury has spent virtually her entire legal career at the American Civil Liberties Union in various capacities, and has had the opportunity to work on a number of prominent civil rights cases. We have summarized some of these matters below.

National Security Project

Early in her career at the ACLU, Choudhury worked primarily on national security cases. For example, she represented Amir Mohamed Meshal, who was detained in Ethiopia and allegedly interrogated by the FBI on allegations of supporting Islamic militants. Beth DeFalco, NJ Man Sues FBI over his Detention in Ethiopia, A.P., Nov. 10, 2009. Additionally and notably, Choudhury argued before the Ninth Circuit in a challenge to the Transportation Safety Administration’s No-Fly List. Nigel Duara, Federal Appeals Court in Ore. Takes Up No-Fly Case, A.P., May 11, 2012. The Ninth Circuit ultimately sided with Choudhury, allowing the suit to move forward. See Latif v. Holder, 686 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2012).

Racial Justice Program

Choudhury also worked at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, where she worked on an agreement with the Boston Police Department to track racial profiling. Jess Bidgood, Boston Police Focus on Blacks in Disproportionate Numbers, Study Shows, N.Y. Times, Oct. 9, 2014. She also worked on an ACLU report that concluded that black drivers in Florida are stopped disproportionately by police. See Lizette Alvarez, Florida Said to Ticket More Blacks on Seatbelts, N.Y. Times, Jan. 28, 2016.

ACLU of Illinois

Since 2020, Choudhury has served as the Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois. In this role, Choudhury has been supportive of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to reform policing. See A.D. Quig, Lori’s Lieutenants Hitting the Exit; Brain Drain Threatens Push for Change in Policing, Crain’s Chicago Business, May 3, 2021.

Statements and Writings

In her role at the ACLU, Choudhury has spoken out frequently in speeches as well as media statements. For example, Choudhury has spoken out against the No-Fly List, arguing that the process of placing individuals on the list lacks transparency. See Chris Hawley, John Curran, Terror Suspects Seek to Clear Names, A.P., Mar. 21, 2011. Choudhury has also been critical of the privatization of parole and probation. See Tina Rosenberg, Out of Debtors’ Prison, With Law as the Key, N.Y. Times Blogs, Mar. 27, 2015. In another article, Choudhury has spoken on the “racial wealth gap” which can lead to fines and parking tickets having more severe consequences for minorities. See Paul Kiel, Debt and the Racial Wealth Gap, N.Y. Times, Jan. 3, 2016.

In an interview discussing her new role as the Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois, Choudhury stated, in a quote that is likely to be frequently repeated: “Our job and my purpose in life is to make sure we use the law as a tool for social justice.” See A.D. Quig, The Takeway; Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, Crain’s Chicago Business, Mar. 23, 2020.

Furthermore, as a law clerk to Judge Cote, Choudhury authored an article that was critical of efforts by Western governments to “liberate” Muslim women by banning religious articles of clothing and headscarves, noting that this can infringe on religious freedom and the autonomy of the women in question, as well as another article discussing women’s rights in the Afghani Constitution. See Nusrat Choudhury, From the Stasi Commission to the European Court of Human Rights: L’Affaire du Foulard and the Challenge of Protecting the Rights of Muslim Girls, 16 Colum. J. Gender & L. 199 (2007); Nusrat Choudhury, Constrained Spaces for Islamic Feminism: Women’s Rights and the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan, 19 Yale L.J. & Feminism 155 (2007).

Overall Assessment

Given her experience with civil rights law and her time at the ACLU, Choudhury’s nomination was already likely to attract strong opposition. However, her self-description as having a life purpose to effectuate social justice through the law is likely to be used to argue that Choudhury is an activist, rather than a jurist. In defense, Choudhury can cite the context of the quote, made in her role as an advocate, not as a judge, while critics may counter that it would be hard for Choudhury to set aside her “purpose in life” when she takes the bench. Ultimately, Choudhury’s nomination is likely to be hotly contested, potentially even coming down to the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.