With three vacancies pending on the Second Circuit, President Biden is getting his own chance to put a stamp on the influential court. His first pick is longtime federal defender Eunice Lee.
Eunice C. Lee received her B.A. from Ohio State University in 1993 and her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1996. After graduating, Lee clerked for Judge Susan Dlott on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and for Judge Eric Clay on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. After her clerkships, Lee joined the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York City, where she worked until 2019.
History of the Seat
Lee has been nominated for a New York seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This seat was vacated by Judge Robert Katzmann, who moved to senior status on January 21, 2021.
Lee has spent virtually her entire legal career at the Office of the Appellate Defender, starting as a Staff Attorney, and moving on to a supervisory role. At the Office of the Appellate Defender, Lee represented indigent defendants in appellate proceedings in New York state and federal courts.
Among the cases she has handled in state court, Lee represented Ramon Roche, who was convicted of stabbing his common-law wife, Lillian Rivera, 12 to 14 times in the course of a violent struggle (Rivera passed away due to the injuries). See People v. Roche, 772 N.E.2d 1133 (N.Y. 2002). Lee successfully persuaded an appellate panel that the trial judge had erred in failing to instruct the jury regarding the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance based on Rivera’s allegedly abusive behavior, and a divided panel reversed the conviction. See People v. Roche, 286 A.D.2d 290 (N.Y. App. Div. 2001). However, the New York Court of Appeals (despite its name, New York’s highest appellate court) reversed, holding that the defendant was not entitled to the instruction because the evidence was not sufficient to meet either element of the defense. See People v. Roche, 772 N.E.2d 1133 (N.Y. 2002).
Lee has also handled a number of appeals in the Second Circuit, the court she hopes to join. Recently, Lee represented Mahyoub Molhi Mohamed Houtar in challenging the constitutionality of the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (“IPKCA”). United States v. Houtar, 980 F.3d 268. Specifically, Lee argued that the IPKCA was intended to punish parents who absconded with their children to another country and was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Houtar, whose children were in Yemen for years before their mother petitioned a New York court for custody. See id. at 273. A panel of the Second Circuit rejected the challenge, holding that the statute provided sufficient notice that Houtar’s conduct was illegal, and that it specifically criminalized “retention” of children in addition to abduction. Id. at 275.
Having spent virtually her entire legal career representing indigent defendants, Lee brings an unusual background to the biglaw-dominated Second Circuit bench. While some senators may hold her representation of those convicted of crimes against her, Lee has little in her background that is likely to imperil her confirmation.