Judge Alison Nathan – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

In addition to presiding over many high profile cases in her current post on the Southern District of New York, Judge Alison Nathan has a distinguished background, tailor-made for elevation to the Second Circuit.

Background

Born Alison Julie Nathan on June 18, 1972 in Philadelphia, Nathan received her B.A. from Cornell University in 1994 and then spent a couple of years working in Japan and Thailand before getting a J.D. from Cornell Law School in 2000. After graduating, Nathan clerked for Judge Betty Binns Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court, as part of a clerk class that year produced five other federal judges: D.C. Circuit Judge Neomi Rao; Fifth Circuit Judge Gregg Costa; Ninth Circuit Judge Michelle Friedland; Northern District of California Judge Vince Chhabria; and Former Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Judge Margaret Ryan.

After her clerkships, Nathan spent four years at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP before joining Fordham University School of Law as a professor. In 2008, she shifted to New York University School of Law.

After the election of President Obama, Nathan spent a year as Special Assistant to the President and Associate White House Counsel before joining the New York Solicitor General’s Office.

On March 31, 2011, Obama nominated Nathan to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, filling the seat opened by Judge Sidney Stein’s move to senior status. Despite bipartisan support out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Republicans were cognizant of the likelihood that Nathan would be elevated and unanimously opposed her, leading to a squeaker 48-44 confirmation on October 13, 2011. Nathan currently serves on the Southern District.

History of the Seat

Nathan has been nominated for a New York seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This seat will be vacated by Judge Rosemary Pooler upon the confirmation of a successor.

On November 17, 2021, Nathan was recommended for the vacancy by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. However, Nathan was likely pre-vetted by the White House as her nomination was made public the same day.

Legal Career

While Nathan’s legal career from clerkship to the bench was a relatively short nine years, she managed to hold a number of positions in that time, including in government, academia, and private practice. During this time, Nathan tried one bench trial in federal court, while also filing one merits brief, four amicus briefs, and one petition for certiorari at the Supreme Court.

Among her more significant matters during her career, Nathan was part of the legal team defending the constitutionality of a New York state tax statute relating to the taxation on cigarette sales in Indian reservations. See generally Seneca Nation of Indians, et al. v. Paterson (multiple related matters). Nathan also authored an amicus brief at the Supreme Court on behalf of forty one states and the District of Columbia, arguing that the Constitution permits remote sellers of cigarettes to be subject to state and local regulations. The Second Circuit ultimately upheld an injunction against the statute allowing the regulations.

Political Activity

Before joining the bench, Nathan was active in working on Democratic campaigns, having taken time off while at Wilmer to work as a legal adviser on the John Kerry Presidential campaign and having done voter protection for ten months for the Obama campaign in 2008. Nathan also occasionally attended meetings of the New York Democratic Lawyer’s Council.

Jurisprudence

Nathan has served as a federal trial judge for approximately nine years. In her time on the bench, Nathan has handled a number of high-profile cases, some of which are detailed below:

American Broadcasting Cos, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. – Nathan was assigned this suit by broadcasting companies seeking to prevent Aereo, a cloud-based streaming service for over-the-air television, from streaming their broadcasts. Nathan declined to enjoin Aereo, citing prior precedent confirming the legality of cloud-based streaming services. Nathan’s ruling was upheld by the Second Circuit but overturned 6-3 by the Supreme Court in 2014 (573 U.S. 431).

United States v. Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad – In 2020, Nathan dismissed a prosecution against businessman Ali Sadr for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran after prosecutors disclosed issues with disclosing evidence. Nathan also criticized the conduct, ordering the government to identify the prosecutors responsible.

Guennol Stargazer – In 2021, Nathan ruled that the sale of a figurine extracted from western Turkey could not be enjoined as the figurine had been under display for years and there was no evidence that it’s excavation had violated Ottoman law. Furthermore, Nathan ruled that Turkey’s claims to the figurine were barred by the doctrine of Laches, which requires claims to be timely brought.

Ghislaine Maxwell – Nathan is currently presiding over the trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein in sex trafficking. Nathan previously ordered Maxwell held without bond, finding her to be a risk of flight.

Overall Assessment

There is little doubt that Nathan is well-qualified for a seat on the Second Circuit. Having extensive experience both as a judge and in analyzing the law as an attorney, Nathan would be able to hit the ground running on the famously intellectual court. Nonetheless, Nathan is likely to attract a sizeable cadre of opposition, based less on a particular decision or case but more on her likelihood to be a liberal heavyweight on the bench.