Sarah Pitlyk – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri

The area in white is covered by the Eastern District

Justin Walker is not the only Kavanaugh clerk and surrogate to receive a federal judicial nomination.  Missouri-based pro-life attorney and former Kavanaugh clerk Sarah Pitlyk has been nominated to a judgeship based in St. Louis.

Background

Pitlyk was born Sarah Elizabeth Martin in 1977 in Indianapolis.[1]  She received a B.A. summa cum laude from Boston College in 1999, and then received an M.A. from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and from Georgetown University before getting a J.D. from Yale University in 2008.[2]  After graduating, Pitlyk worked at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington D.C.  Pitlyk left the firm on hiatus to clerk for Justice Brett Kavanaugh (when he was on the D.C. Circuit), returning after her clerkship in 2011.[3]

In 2013, Pitlyk moved to Missouri to work as an Associate at the RUNNYMEDE law group, working with Stephen Clark (now a Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri).[4]  She left in 2017 to join the Thomas More Society as Special Counsel, where she currently works.

History of the Seat

Pitlyk has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.  This seat opened on December 31, 2018, when Judge Catherine Perry moved to senior status.  In January 2019, newly elected Senator Josh Hawley reached out to Pitlyk to gauge her interest in the judgeship.[5]  In May 2019, Pitlyk began the vetting process with the White House and was nominated in August 2019.

Legal Experience

Excluding her clerkship, Pitlyk has approximately ten years of litigation experience, with stints at Covington & Burling, the RUNNYMEDE law group, and the Thomas More Society.  During this time, Pitlyk has litigated three cases that have gone to final judgment, including one as Chief Counsel.

Notably, in her short legal career, Pitlyk has litigated a number of controversial cases, generally trying to push the law in a more pro-life direction.  For example, while at RUNNYMEDE, Pitlyk worked with Clark on a suit unsuccessfully trying to establish the personhood of frozen embryos.[6]  At the Thomas More Society, Pitlyk was a part of the defense team for David Daleiden, a pro-life activist who faced criminal and civil suits for releasing videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.[7]  During her representation, Daleiden and his organization were held in contempt for violating a court order against disseminating the videos (the violations were based on the actions of Daleiden’s attorneys in a related criminal case).[8]

Pitlyk’s most notable case is her challenge to a St. Louis ordinance preventing any employer from discriminating against employees who had undergone abortions.[9]  Pitlyk argued that the ordinance created a protected class “based on social opinion” and infringed on the rights of Catholic organizations in the city.[10]  The ordinance was ultimately partially enjoined by Judge Audrey Fleissig.[11] 

Writings

Similar to Kentucky nominee Justin Walker, Pitlyk was a prominent surrogate for then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh during the campaign to confirm him in 2018.  Notably, Pitlyk sought to counter concerns that Kavanaugh was not committed to women’s rights, noting that he was solicitous of her needs while she was a new mother and clerking for him.[12]  In another interview, Pitlyk called Justice Kavanaugh “an exemplary judge: brilliant, principled, and faithful to the text.”[13]  In a July 2018 article, Pitlyk described Kavanaugh as having a “rock-solid record on the issues that matter most to social conservatives.”[14] 

Overall Assessment

There’s perhaps no issue as divisive in U.S. politics as abortion.  As such, any nominee with a long history of advocacy on either side of the issue is likely to face problems with confirmation.  When you add in the resurgence of the Kavanaugh confirmation as a divisive issue, it is likely that Pitlyk will face an uncomfortable (if not necessarily unsuccessful) confirmation fight.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Sarah Pitlyk: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 37-38.

[6] See McQueen v. Gadberry, 507 S.W.3d 127 (Mo. App. 2016).

[7] Bob Egelko, Antiabortion Activist, Lawyers Held in Contempt Over Secret Videos, SFGate, July 17, 2017, https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Antiabortion-activist-lawyers-held-in-contempt-11295298.php.

[8] Nat’l Abortion Fed. v. Ctr. for Med. Progress, 926 F.3d 534 (9th Cir. 2019).

[9] Jim Salter, Catholics Challenge St. Louis ‘Abortion Sanctuary’ Law, A.P., May 22, 2017.

[10] Id. (quoting Sarah Pitlyk).

[11] Our Lady’s Inn. v. City of St. Louis, 349 F. Supp. 3d 805 (E.D. Mo. 2018).

[12] See, e.g., What Kavanaugh Is Like Behind the Scenes, Western Free Press, Aug. 9, 2018.

[13] See Elizabeth Williamson, Phalanx of Former Clerks Rushes Into Action, N.Y. Times, July 12, 2018.

[14] Sarah Pitlyk, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Impeccable Record of Constitutional Conservatism, Nat’l Rev., Jul. 3, 2018, https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/07/judge-brett-kavanaughs-impeccable-record-of-constitutional-conservatism/.  

Stephen Clark – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri

The area in white is covered by the Eastern District

St. Louis attorney Stephen Clark is Trump’s first nominee to the Missouri federal bench. Clark, who has the strong support of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), may draw questions from senators regarding his work in pro-life circles.

Background

Clark was born in 1966 in Evanston, Illinois.  He attended Notre Dame University and received a J.D. from Saint Louis University School of Law.[1]  Clark then joined the St. Louis office of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale P.C. as an Associate.  In 1998, Clark was elevated to be an Officer at the firm.[2]

In 1999, Clark moved to Polsinelli P.C. as a Shareholder.[3]  He stayed there for seven years before moving to Husch Blackwell LLP as a Partner.[4]  Finally, in 2008, he moved to start his own law practice, which was eventually renamed to RUNNYMEDE law group.[5]  Clark is still in that position.

History of the Seat

Clark has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.  This seat was opened by Judge Carol Jackson’s move to senior status on August 31, 2017.  In early 2017, Clark reached out to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to express his interest in the vacancy.[6]  After interviewing with Blunt, Clark was recommended to the White House in July 2017.  Clark was officially nominated for the seat on April 12, 2018.

Legal Experience

Clark began his legal career at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale P.C. while also working as a municipal prosecutor in Black Jack, Missouri.  As a municipal prosecutor, Clark helped to enforce nuisance ordinances against a 146-year-old pig farm that released pungent odors onto the neighboring properties.[7]

From 1999 to 2006, Clark worked at Polsinelli, P.C. as a Shareholder.  While there, Clark focused on civil litigation, including defending plastics manufacturers against allegations that they had exposed their employee to toxic chemicals, resulting in his death.[8]  In another case, Clark defended Maytag Corporation against allegations that a defective clothes dryer had caused a fire in the plaintiff’s home.[9]

From 2008, Clark has practiced on his own (the firm is currently named RUNNYMEDE law group).  In this role, Clark has taken on some politically charged cases.  For example, Clark represented the Missouri Roundtable for Life in challenging the Missouri Science Innovation and Reinvestment Act (MOSIRA).[10]  MOSIRA set up a fund to provide state money for science research, but was criticized by the Roundtable for allowing funding to go to abortion, embryionic stem cell research, or human cloning.  MOSIRA was ultimately struck down as violating the Single-Subject Rule of the Missouri Constitution.[11]

Clark also notably represented Jalesia McQueen in a case involving disposition of two frozen pre-embryos created between her and her ex-husband.[12]  McQueen argued that the pre-embryos should be treated as “children” and, as such, custody of the embryos should be given to her.  After a trial court ruled that the embryos were marital property, and not children, Clark represented McQueen on appeal, arguing that, under Missouri law, life begins at conception and that unborn children should be treated as “persons.”[13]  The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that any declarations in Missouri law must be “qualified by and subject to, the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, including but not limited to holdings that a woman’s right to an abortion remains a constitutionally protected right.”[14]  The Court of Appeals ultimately held that the pre-embryos could not be treated as children.[15]

Political Activity and Memberships

Clark has a fairly active political history, including memberships in the Republican National Lawyers Association and the Republican National Committee.[16]  Clark has also frequently volunteered for and fundraised for Missouri Republicans including Blunt.[17]  He has also donated multiple times to Blunt’s campaigns.[18]

Clark has been active in the pro-life movement, serving as the Director to Lawyers for Life since 2009.[19]  Clark has also been a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies since 2009 and of the National Rifle Association since 2016.[20]

Writings

In 2013, Clark authored an article criticizing the Missouri and Kansas Supreme Courts for failing to adopt transparent procedures for the appointment of “special” judges to hear cases where justices had recused themselves.[21]  In the article, Clark uses the examples of dueling decisions from the Supreme Courts both striking down and upholding caps on noneconomic damages to illustrate the influence of “special” judges.[22]  Given their power, Clark argues that courts should “adopt a transparent and non-discretionary procedure for appointing special judges.”[23]

Clark has also written and spoken against abortion in his role in Lawyers for Life.[24]  For example, in a speech at Duke University titled “Pious & Professional: Living the Faith at Work,” Clark urged medical schools to stop partnering with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that such partnerships encouraged abortions.[25]

Overall Assessment

As Clark’s nomination winds its way through the confirmation process, expect focus to be on his political beliefs rather than his professional capability.  Specifically, senators may argue that Clark’s history of pro-life activism raises questions as to his commitment to pro-choice precedent.  For his part, Clark has already reaffirmed his commitment to enforcing Roe v. Wade.[26]  As long as 50 senators are willing to give Clark the benefit of the doubt, he is likely to join the federal bench.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees: Stephen Clark 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] See id. 

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See Clark, supra n. 1 at 42.

[7] See William C. Lhotka, Pig Farm Must Go, Court Decides: Black Jack Wins Effort to Oust Smelly Business, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 11, 1996.

[8] See Bogner v. AIRCO, Inc. et al., Case No. 02-1157, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26890 (C.D. Ill. Apr. 1, 2003).

[9] See Declue v. Maytag Corp., Case No. 4:03CV1371 HEA, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34639 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 29, 2005).

[10] Missouri Roundtable for Life, Inc., et al. v. State, no. 11AC-CC00770 (Circuit Court of Cole Cnty. 2011), 396 S.W.3d 348 (Mo. 2013).

[11] See 396 S.W.3d 348 (Mo. 2013).

[12] See McQueen v. Gadberry, 507 S.W.3d 127 (Mo. App. 2016).

[13] Id. at 139.

[14] Id. at 142-43.

[15] Id. at 158.

[16] See id. at 26.

[17] Id. 

[19] See Clark, supra n. 1 at 6.

[20] See id. at 5-6.

[21] See Stephen R. Clark, Avoiding the Appearance of Impropreity: Missouri and Kansas Supreme Court Decisions on the Constitutionality of Caps on Noneconomic Damages Demonstrate the Need for Objective Procedures in the Selection of Special Judges, 77 Alb. L. Rev. 1441 (2013/2014).

[22] Id. 

[23] Id. at 1453.

[24] See Clark, supra n. 1 at 7-24.

[25] See Brandi Buchman, Judicial Nominees Taken to Task for Views on Abortion, Climate, Courthouse News, July 11, 2018, https://www.courthousenews.com/judicial-nominees-taken-to-task-for-views-on-abortion-climate/.

[26] See id.