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Dobbs Lawyer Says She’d Apply Abortion Ruling as US Judge (1)

Sept. 21, 2022, 3:19 PMUpdated: Sept. 21, 2022, 5:16 PM

The lawyer who represented the Mississippi abortion clinic in the US Supreme Court case that overturned the constitutional right to abortion told lawmakers that she would follow the decision if confirmed to a federal appellate seat.

“I want to be clear that I will apply Dobbs faithfully,” Julie Rikelman said at Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearing when asked about the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that was decided in June.

“Our legal system and the rule of law itself depends on lower courts following Supreme Court precedent and as you said Dobbs is now the law of the land and I will follow it as I will follow all Supreme Court precedent,” Rikelman said in response to Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Rikelman, who argued the landmark case for the Center for Reproductive Rights in a losing cause before the conservative-majority court, was nominated by President Joe Biden to the Boston-based US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Rikelman appeared on the panel with Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araújo Kahn, who is nominated to the New York-based Second Circuit. Rikelman, however, received more scrutiny from Republicans.

A handful of GOP committee members aggressively questioned her advocacy and sought to draw out any personal views on abortion access and other hot-button conservative topics.

“You have spent the majority of your professional life as an extreme zealot advocating for abortion. That is clearly a heartfelt and personal passion,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said to Rikelman.

She countered Cruz’s allegation that she believes abortion should be legal up until the moment of birth, saying she never took that position. “No senator, as an advocate I always worked within Supreme Court precedent,” Rikelman said.

She had similar exchanges with Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) over pregnancy centers and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) over a law review article she authored about the special need exception to the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

Rikelman was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and currently lives in Massachusetts. Prior to to her current work at the Center for Reproductive Rights, Rikelman was a lawyer at NBC Universal where she was vice president of litigation. She was also a senior associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York and an associate at Feldman & Orlansky in Alaska.

Rikelman said on her Senate Judiciary Questionnaire that she applied for a vacancy at the district court level in Massachusetts in April 2021, several months before arguing Dobbs. She interviewed with the selection committee set up by the state’s Democratic senators and in April 2022, applied for a First Circuit vacancy. Biden nominated her in August.

(Updated with additional details from hearing.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com