President Joe Biden’s second list of intended judicial nominees includes picks with experience representing workers and immigrants, answering a call to add experiential diversity to the bench.
Judge David Estudillo, who would be nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington that covers Seattle, practiced immigration law and general civil litigation as a solo practitioner before becoming a state judge, according to a White House statement released Thursday.
Biden’s second intended nominee to Washington’s Western District, Tana Lin, is of counsel at Keller Rohrback where she represents employees and shareholders in consumer and antitrust litigation, the release said. Lin previously worked as a public defender and was the litigation coordinator for the Michigan Poverty Law Program, which supports legal aid programs in the state.
Christine O’Hearn, who would be nominated for the District of New Jersey, is a partner at Brown & Connery where she represents “individuals and management in all employment related matters,” according to her profile on the firm’s website. Previously in her career, however, O’Hearn represented plaintiffs.
O’Hearn spent 28 years as a trial attorney in New Jersey and Pennsylvania arguing cases on behalf of employees and “has built a reputation as a highly-regarded advocate for women in the workplace,” according to a press release from New Jersey’s Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.
The inclusion of lawyers with backgrounds representing non-corporate clients comes after Biden’s first list drew criticism from his own base. In a letter to White House counsel Dana Remus, two dozen consumer and public interest law groups called on Biden to nominate candidates with “experience representing consumers and workers and a deeper understanding of how the justice system works for everyday people.”
The groups signing that letter included Americans for Financial Reform, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Employment Lawyers Association, and Public Good Law Center.
Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said while he’s not familiar with all of the nominees in the latest announcement, “it’s a really good thing” Lin and Estudillo appear have experience outside the norm of typical judicial nominees.
Judges with experience as prosecutors or corporate lawyers—two common backgrounds to have on the federal bench—are less likely to rule in favor of workers in employment disputes, according to a recent study by Emory University law professor Joanna Shepherd and supported by Demand Justice.
The courts are filled with judges “who do not have the experience of representing people who are not as well off,” Rheingold said. “It’s really important if our judicial system is going to be representative of who we are as a population that judges come from a wide variety of attorneys.”
Praise for Picks
Demand Justice applauded the role of Washington’s two Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, in making the selections for the trial court in their state.
“By reforming their judicial screening committee to include more public interest lawyers and following through with these two picks, Senators Murray and Cantwell have set an example for the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus to follow,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of progressive judicial advocate Demand Justice.
Nominating individuals who reflect the makeup of the country is important, Murray said in a statement. The Washington state nominees “through their personal and professional experiences, will bring a powerful and important perspective to the federal bench and both are eminently qualified to serve as exceptional federal district court judges.
Russ Feingold, former Democratic Wisconsin senator and president of The American Constitution Society, a group for liberal lawyers, praised all three picks.
“These three judicial candidates, like the first eleven, exemplify racial, gender, and professional diversity, which is desperately needed to establish a judiciary that reflects the people it serves,” Feingold said.
The intended nominees would fill vacancies on understaffed courts. All of the vacancies on Western District of Washington and the District of New Jersey are considered “judicial emergencies.” The Judiciary’s policymaking arm, the Judicial Conference, identifies emergencies based on the time a seat has been vacant and how it impact the workload for the remaining judges.
The list of three planned trial court nominees announced Thursday comes the day after the first Biden judicial nominees had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The latest announcement brings Biden’s total list of proposed nominees to lifetime federal judicial appointments to 13 plus one nominee to the D.C. Superior Court.
Progressives criticized the New Jersey nominee for her work representing management. “One of these things is not like the other,” said Molly Coleman, executive director of People’s Parity Project.
Coleman said that combined with the previously announced New Jersey trial court nominees—a former corporate partner and a former federal prosecutor—the selection of O’Hearn suggests that New Jersey’s two Democratic senators “are not committed to the professional diversity that the White House has asked for.”
Steven Sandberg, a spokesman for Menendez, pushed back on the comment that New Jersey’s nominees haven’t been in line with White House goals, pointing to the different professional background each nominee represents.
The New Jersey trial court nominees include a woman, a Black man, and a nominee who could be the first federal Muslim-American judge, Sandberg said, “all of whom have different life and professional experiences that make each of them highly qualified to serve in the federal judiciary.”
A spokesman for Booker pointed to his comments at the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Biden’s court nominees praising the circuit court candidates for their professional diversity.