Jason Pulliam – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas

The lack of diversity of Trump’s judicial nominees has already drawn criticism.  Trump has been especially slow about nominating African American judges, naming just six to date.  As such, the nomination of Jason Pulliam, who will be the first African American judge on the Western District of Texas, is particularly welcome.

Background

Jason Kenneth Pulliam was born in 1971 in Brooklyn.  After getting a B.A. and an M.A. from Brooklyn College, CUNY, Pulliam received a J.D. Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 2000.  After his graduation, Pulliam spent three years as a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps.[1]

After leaving the Marines, Pulliam spent the next six years as an associate in private practice, moving between The Carlson Law Firm, Ball & Weed P.C. and Ford & Murray PLLC.  In 2011, Pulliam became a Judge with the Bexar County Court of Law No. 5.[2]  In 2015, he was appointed by outgoing Gov. Rick Perry as a Justice on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  However, in 2016, Pulliam lost re-election to fellow Bexar County Court judge Irene Alarcon Rios.  He then joined the San Antonio office of Prichard Young LLP as a Counsel.

In 2018, Pulliam once again ran for the Fourth Circuit, but again lost the election to incumbent judge Patricia Alvarez, a Democrat.

History of the Seat

Pulliam has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.  This seat opened on December 31, 2017, when Judge Sam Sparks took senior status.  While Pulliam was previously considered for vacancies filled by Judges Walter Counts and Fernando Rodriguez, he was ultimately recommended in mid-2018 for the Sparks vacancy, based out of Austin.[3]  However, while Pulliam was selected as a nominee by the White House in August 2018, he was not formally nominated until March 2019.

Legal Experience

Pulliam started his legal career as a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as a criminal defense and legal assistance attorney while serving on active duty.  During this period, Pulliam was trial defense counsel for James D. Mohammad, who was convicted for failing to follow an order to get inoculated based on his Muslim faith.[4]  Mohammad appealed, arguing that Pulliam was ineffective in his defense, but the Court of Criminal Appeals found that Pulliam had adequately researched the defenses Mohammad sought and had declined to bring them because they were specious.[5]

From 2004 to 2010, Pulliam worked in private practice, where he handled a variety of cases, including personal injury, civil litigation, and malpractice.  In this period, Pulliam notably defended RV Insurance Solutions LLC, a collection agency, against allegations that it had illegally misappropriated customer funds.[6]

Jurisprudence

Pulliam served as a county court judge from 2011 to 2014 and as an appellate judge from 2015 to 2016.  In the latter position, Pulliam sat as part of 3-judge panels to oversee appeals in the Fourth Circuit, which covered much of Southern Texas.  As an appellate judge, Pulliam notably dismissed a class action suit by a team of 1400 plaintiffs who alleged that payday lenders had improperly used criminal prosecution against their debtors.[7]  In his opinion, Pulliam found that the suits were foreclosed by arbitration clauses in the payday contracts.[8]  However, Judge Rebeca Martinez dissented from Pulliam’s conclusion.[9]

In another notable case, Pulliam held that Dino Villareal, a transgender man[10], could not bring suit for a paternity action for the adoptive children of his female partner.[11]  This holding also drew dissents, including one on the merits from Judge Martinez.[12]

Political Activity

As noted earlier, Pulliam ran as a Republican in Texas judicial elections, losing to Democratic candidates in 2016 and 2018.  In addition, Pulliam donated to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2016.[13]

Speeches and Writings

While a sitting judge and judicial candidate in 2016, Pulliam appeared on an interview with the Black Video Network, where he discussed his role as a judge and key issues.[14]  Among the topics he is asked to address, Pulliam discusses police brutality and Black Lives Matter noting:

“[Protestors] have an absolute right to protest under the First Amendment.  They have a right to seek redress for grievances, and I think we should encourage that as long as it doesn’t ever become violent.  Folks probably need to have a specific agenda and list of items that they seek redress for those grievances.  They may want to petition their city council or their state legislature, and then seek to change by being part of the process.”[15]

Later in the interview, Pulliam contrasted himself with Judge Rios, his opponent, by noting that he has criminal and civil experience, while Rios only has civil experience.[16]

Overall Assessment

Pulliam was the first African American Republican to be a Bexar County judge when he was appointed in 2011.  He then became the first African American on the Fourth Circuit and, would, if confirmed, become the first African American on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Setting aside his contribution to the diversity of the federal bench, Pulliam’s record is conservative but not overly political.  While Pulliam may draw criticism for his decisions in the CASH BIZ and Sandoval cases, such concerns are unlikely to derail his nomination.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Jason K. Pulliam: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] Id.

[3] See id. at 60-61.

[4] United States v. Mohammad, 2006 WL 1499986 (U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Ct. of Crim. App. May 31, 2006).

[5] See id. at *5.

[6] Motorhomebytel, Inc. v. RV Ins. Sols. LLC., Bexar Cnty. St. Dist. No. Cause 2007C105629.

[7] CASH BIZ, LP v. Henry, No. 04-15-00469-CV, 2016 WL 4013794 (Tex. App. – San Antonio, July 27, 2016, pet. filed).

[8] See id.

[9] Charles Kuffner, Appeals Court Blocks Litigation Against Payday Lenders, Off the Kuff, Aug. 7, 2016.

[10] Interestingly, while Mr. Villareal has obtained an Order Granting Change of Identity, and, while Pulliam’s original opinion refers to him as male, Pulliam’s SJC Questionnaire appears to misgender him.  See Pulliam, supra n. 1 at 26 (“The underlying matter involved two women who were in a relationship (Sandoval and another woman who identified as a man named Dino.”).

[11] In re Sandoval, No. 04-15-00244-CV, 2016 WL 353010 (Tex. App._San Antonio Jan. 27, 2016, orig. proceeding).

[12] Art Leonard, Texas Appeals Panel Denies Transgender Man Standing to Bring Paternity Action Concerning Children He Was Parenting, Art Leonard Observations, Jan. 30, 2016, https://www.artleonardobservations.com/texas-appeals-panel-denies-transgender-man-standing-to-bring-paternity-action-concerning-children-he-was-parenting/.  

[14] See Black Excellence – Jason Pulliam for Judge, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJQY-FerUFM.  

[15] See id.

[16] Id.