Regina Rodriguez – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

In 2016, Regina Rodriguez was nominated for the federal bench by President Obama with the bipartisan support of Colorado’s U.S. Senators.  However, Rodriguez never received a hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.  When recommended for another federal judgeship in 2021, Rodriguez was attacked, this time from the left, for a perceived lack of experience in civil rights.  These attacks belie Rodriguez’s relatively mainstream credentials.  Her nomination by the Biden Administration is likely a prelude to a comfortable confirmation.

Background

A native Coloradoan, Regina Marie Rodriguez was born in 1963 in Gunnison.  Rodriguez attended the University of Iowa, graduating with honors in 1984.[1]  Rodriguez then received a J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1988.

After graduating, Rodriguez joined the Denver office of Cooper & Kelly P.C. as an associate.[2]  After six years, Rodriguez left to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, rising to become Chief of the Civil Division in 1999.[3]  

In 2002, Rodriguez joined the Denver Office of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, where she worked until 2016, when she moved to Hogan Lovells LLP.[4]  In 2019, Rodriguez shifted to the Denver office of WilmerHale, where she currently serves.

In 2016, Rodriguez was nominated by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, to replace Judge Robert Blackburn.[5]  Rodriguez had the support of Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Republican Senator Cory Gardner.[6]  However, despite their support, the Senate Judiciary Committee took no action on Rodriguez’s nomination and it expired at the end of the 114th Congress.  Rodriguez was not renominated by the Trump Administration, who instead chose Colorado Solicitor General Daniel Domenico, who was confirmed in 2016.

History of the Seat

Rodriguez has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.  This seat was opened by Judge Marcia Kreiger’s move to senior status on March 3, 2019.  Although this vacancy opened with nearly two years left in President Trump’s term, he did not put forward a nominee to fill the seat, possibly because he was unable to reach an agreement with Sen. Michael Bennet.  

Legal Experience

Rodriguez began her legal career at the firm of Cooper & Kelly P.C.  At the firm, Rodriguez handled primarily professional liability defense and general insurance defense work.[7]  The rest of her career can be divided into the seven years she spent as a federal prosecutor, and the two decades she spent in private practice.   

Federal Prosecutor

From 1995 to 2002, Rodriguez served in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado.  In this role, Rodriguez defended the federal government against lawsuits.  For example, Rodriguez defended the federal government against a lawsuit brought by the parents of a boy injured on a sledding trip with his Boy Scout troop.[8]

Private Practice

Since 2002, Rodriguez has worked in private practice, working primarily in complex civil litigation.  Notably, Rodriguez was part of the legal team representing Toyota in defending against a lawsuit alleging defects in their vehicles that caused economic loss to the plaintiffs.[9]

Notably, Rodriguez joined with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) in suing to improve Latino representation in the 2011 Congressional maps.[10]  She argued in the suit that the status quo failed to ensure proper representation for the community.[11]  The suit ended with the court adopting the redistricting proposal sought by Rodriguez’s clients.

Writings 

Throughout her career, Rodriguez has written and spoken on the issue of diversity in the legal field.  For example, in 2015, Rodriguez co-authored an article discussing legal diversity for Colorado Law Week.[12]  She has also discussed the tendency of law firm partners to hire others who come from similar backgrounds, a phenomenon that can lead to barriers to legal diversity.[13]

Political Activity

While Rodriguez has not played an official role with a political party,[14] she has made a number of political donations throughout her career, all to Democrats.[15]  Recipients of her donations include Sen. John Hickenlooper and President Joe Biden.[16]

Overall Assessment

Unlike most of Biden’s judicial nominees, Regina Rodriguez’s nomination has drawn primary opposition among some liberal groups.[17]  The criticism generally arises from a perception that Rodriguez is “corporate” and a “former prosecutor.”  

However, it’s unlikely that such criticism will carry the day in the Senate.  It is hard to question Rodriguez’s qualifications for a federal judgeship, with extensive litigation experience and respect from both sides of the aisle.  To the extent that criticism of Rodriguez reflects criticism of a paucity of judges from public interest backgrounds, senators will likely conclude that such interests can be addressed without jettisoning the nomination of a qualified candidate.


[1]See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113rd Cong., Ketanji Brown Jackson: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2]Jackson’s clerk class included 7th Circuit Judge Michael Scudder, Texas Supreme Court Justice Brett Busby, and appellate superstar Kannon Shanmugam. 

[3] See Jackson, supra n. 1 at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on the United States District Court (April 28, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov). 

[6] Press Release, Office of Senator Michael Bennet, Bennet, Gardner Urge Judiciary Committee to Consider Regina Rodriguez Nomination (July 12, 2016) (on file at https://www.bennet.senate.gov/?p=release&id=3735). 

[7] See Rodriguez, supra n. 1 at 21.

[8] Hancey v. United States, 967 F. Supp. 443 (D. Colo. 1997).

[9]See In re Toyota Motor Corp., 790 F. Supp. 2d 1152 (C.D. Cal. 2011).

[10] See Ivan Moreno,Colo. Court Battle Over Congressional Maps Begins, A.P., Oct. 9, 2011.

[11] See Ivan Moreno, Colorado Congressional Redistricting Suit Wraps Up, A.P., Oct. 31, 2011.

[12] Regina Rodriguez, Scott Martinez, and Shelby Myers, Denver: An Opportunity for True Inclusiveness in the Legal Profession, Law Week Colorado, Mar. 23, 2015.

[13] See Renwei Chung, 6 Reasons for Gender Differences At the Top of the Legal Profession, Above the Law, Sept. 25, 2015.

[14] See Rodriguez, supra n. 1 at 19.

[16] Id.

[17] See, e.g., Alexander Sammon, Why Is Michael Bennet Defying Joe Biden’s Call For Non-Corporate Judges, American Prospect, Feb. 15, 2021.