Judge Salvador Mendoza – Nominee to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza has served on the Eastern District of Washington since 2014. He has now been tapped for elevation to the Ninth Circuit.

Background

Born November 30, 1971 in Pacoima, California in an immigrant family from Mexico, Mendoza attended the University of Washington and UCLA School of Lawl. After graduating from law school, Mendoza had quick stints with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, and the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, before he started his own practice, staying with the practice while working as a Municipal, Juvenile, and District Court Judge Pro Tempore until 2013.

In 2013, Mendoza was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to be a Superior Court Judge in Franklin County.

In 2014, President Obama appointed Mendoza to replace Judge Lonny Suko on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Mendoza was confirmed 92-4 on June 17, 2014, and has served as a federal judge since.

History of the Seat

Mendoza has been nominated for a Washington seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This seat will open when Judge Margaret McKeown takes senior status upon the confirmation of her successor.

Writings and Statements

While a student at UCLA, Mendoza authored a note that was sharply critical of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. New York, which permitted the striking of bilingual jurors from a criminal jury that was likely to hear testimony in Spanish. See Salvador Mendoza, Jr., When Maria Speaks Spanish: Hernandez, the Ninth Circuit, and the Fallacy of Race Neutrality, 18 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 193 (Fall 1996). In the note, Mendoza is also critical of permitting “race-neutral” justifications for such strikes, arguing that the language of race neutrality allows prosecutors to hide covert biases. See id. at 204. Mendoza argues that, in the context of prejudice and hostility to Spanish speakers, Hernandez “can be seen as a continued attempt to place a badge of inferiority and continue the racial subordination of the Latino community.” Id. at 209.

In a speech given at his investiture when he joined the federal bench, Mendoza highlighted the “guiding principle” of his judicial career as “equal justice under law.” See Kristin M. Kraemer, Sal Mendoza Jr. of Kennewick Becomes First Latino Federal Judge on East Side, Tri-City Herald, Aug. 1, 2014.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Mendoza worked in a variety of positions, but primarily worked as a solo and dual practitioner in state and federal criminal law. Throughout this time, Mendoza tried seventy-seven cases as either sole or co-counsel, including approximately sixty jury trials. Among these trials, Mendoza secured an acquittal for a client charged with conspiracy to distribute meth-amphetamines in federal court. United States v. Cisneros, No. CR-05-206-3-FVS, (E.D. Wash.).

Jurisprudence

In 2013, Mendoza was appointed to the Franklin County and Benton County Superior Court, where he presided over 36 cases to verdict/judgment, including twenty-two jury trials. Notably, Mendoza presided over the ongoing litigation in the Arlene’s Flowers case, which involved a florist who had declined to provide flowers for a same-sex ceremony and was sued for violating civil rights laws. State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers Inc., et al., No. 13-2-00871-5 (Franklin Cnty. Super. Ct.).

Since 2014, Mendoza has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Washington. In this role, Mendoza has handled a number of high profile cases. Most notably, Mendoza presided over the criminal case against James Henrickson, charged with hiring hitmen to murder a business partner and an employee. See Rachel Alexander, MURDER-FOR-HIRE TRIAL MOVED; Judge Cites Publicity in Sending Henrikson Trial to Richland, Spokesman Review, Sept. 18, 2015. The case involved many twists, including Henrikson’s decision to plead guilty and then to withdraw his guilty pleas. See Kip Hill, Henrickson Withdraws Guilty Plea in Murders: Spokane Businessman Was Killed in his South Hill Home, Spokesman Review, Nov. 4, 2015. The case ended with guilty verdicts, after which Mendoza sentenced Henrickson to two life sentences. See Kip Hill, Henrickson Receives Two Life Sentences: Showed No Remorse For Ordering Killings, Spokesman Review, May 25, 2016.

In other matters, Mendoza granted an injunction ordering Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences to accommodate the needs of a deaf student. See Molly Rosbach, Judge Orders PNWU to Accommodate Deaf Student, Yakima Herald-Republic, July 23, 2014. Mendoza also granted a restraining order requiring a local jail to release an inmate granted bail (the inmate was being held pursuant to an immigration hold). See Phil Ferolito, Federal Judge’s Order to Lift Immigration Hold on Yakima Inmate Could Have Nationwide Impact, Tri-City Herald, July 27, 2017.

Overall Assessment

While Mendoza’s first confirmation was widely bipartisan, it is likely that his elevation will attract strong opposition. Setting aside the more partisan attitudes towards confirmation today, Mendoza may attract questions about his injunctions on immigration holds. Additionally, his law school note and his role in the Arlene’s Flowers case, which largely avoided controversy when he was up for a trial court position, may be raised again in his elevation.

Nonetheless, Mendoza remains favored for confirmation, albeit with a significantly reduced margin.