Jennifer Philpott Wilson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

The scion of a well-established central Pennsylvania legal family, Jennifer Philpott Wilson has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Background

Wilson was born Jennifer Marie Philpott in 1975 in Washington D.C..[1]  She was one of seven children born to Jerry and Sandra Philpott, with her father being a longtime attorney in central Pennsylvania.[2]  Wilson attended Swarthmore College, receiving a B.A. degree in 1997, and subsequently getting a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.[3]

After graduating, Wilson clerked for Judge Jon McCalla on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and then for Judge Julio Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[4]  After her clerkships, Wilson worked as an Associate at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City.  

In 2005, Wilson became a trial attorney with the Tax Division at the Department of Justice.[5]  She left in 2009 to join her father’s practice as a Partner in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and still practices there.

History of the Seat

The seat Wilson has been nominated for opened on October 11, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Yvette Kane.  In July 2018, Wilson applied for a federal judgeship with the application committee set up by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).[6]  Wilson was jointly recommended to the White House on February 13, 2019 and was nominated on May 3, 2019.[7] 

Legal Experience

Wilson started her career by working at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City, where she worked on civil matters in New York courts.  Then, from 2005 to 2009, Wilson worked for the Tax Division with the Department of Justice.  During this time, Wilson represented the U.S. in a key case seeking unpaid taxes hidden behind “Son of BOSS” tax shelters.[8] 

Since 2009, Wilson has been a Partner with her father in Philpott Wilson, primarily practicing criminal defense.  Most notably, Wilson represented Mark Ciaverella, a Wilkes-Barre judge who was convicted for accepting kickbacks in exchange for sending children to private children’s detention facilities (“Kids for Cash”).[9]  Wilson succeeded in convincing Judge Christopher Conner to reverse three counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, and conspiracy on statute of limitations grounds.[10]

Writings

In 2000, as a law student, Wilson co-authored a note criticizing public entity lawsuits against tobacco and gun industries for harms resulting from their products.[11]  The note explains the legal basis for state claims against tobacco industries in the 1990s and the substantial settlements obtained therefrom.  It also criticizes such litigation by Attorneys General, arguing that legislation is a more appropriate avenue to regulate tobacco.[12]  It also suggests that such suits against the gun industry is “motivated more by the prospect of regulating the manufacturers and generating revenue through settlements than by a desire to redress past wrongs.”[13] All in all, the note is deeply critical of such lawsuits, and suggests that they be cut back in favor of legislative solutions.[14]

Political Activity 

Wilson had no noticeable political activity until 2018, when she gave $570 to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania.[15]  The same year, Wilson joined the Perry County Republican Committee.[16]  Interestingly, Wilson’s father, Jerry Philpott has donated consistently to Democrats, giving 31 contributions to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats since 2016.[17]

Overall Assessment

As most Pennsylvania district court nominees have generally been confirmed with bipartisan majorities, Wilson looks likely to do the same.  Nevertheless, she may attract some opposition based on her relative youth and her criticism of public entity lawsuits (a tactic generally supported across the aisle as a way to recover the costs of smoking).  Overall, given her support and endorsement by Republican Sen. Toomey and Democratic Sen. Casey, Wilson is unlikely to be considered controversial.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Jennifer Philpott Wilson: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See Attorney Profile, Philpott Wilson LLP, http://philpottwilson.com/jerry-philpott/3687394.

[3] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 1.

[4] Id. at 1-2.

[5] Id. at 2.

[6] See id. at 25-26.

[7] Id. at 26.

[8] See Jade Trading, LLC. v. United States, 80 Fed. Cl. 11 (2007).

[9] James Halpin, Ciavarella’s Trial Lawyers Admit Failing to Address Potential Key Issue, The Citizens’ Voice, Sept. 15, 2017.

[10] James Halpin, Judge Rules in Ciavarella’s Favor in Kids-For-Cash Appeal, The Citizens’ Voice, Jan. 8, 2018.

[11] Philip C. Patterson & Jennifer M. Philpott, In Search of a Smoking Gun: A Comparison of Public Entity Tobacco and Gun Litigation, 66 Brooklyn L. Rev. 549 (Summer/Fall 2000).

[12] See id. at 576-78.

[13] Id. at 602.

[14] See id. at 606-07.

[16] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 12.