Highlighting the Civil Rights Advocates Nominated to the Federal Bench


Spencer Myers

President Biden and Senate Democrats have made it a priority to increase demographic and professional diversity on the federal bench, with White House Counsel Dana Remus encouraging Democratic Senators to prioritize “individuals whose legal experiences have been historically underrepresented on the federal bench, including those who are public defenders, civil rights and legal aid attorneys, and those who represent Americans in every walk of life.” Biden’s first slates of nominees have rightly received significant attention and praise for their historic demographic diversity, and for championing former public defenders (including four of six nominees to Courts of Appeals).

Though they have received less public attention, it is also important to recognize the other champions for equal justice that Democratic senators have recommended and President Biden has nominated. These nominees, with vital experiential diversity, have devoted their careers to representing workers and consumers, fighting for civil rights, and representing Native Americans, immigrants, and others who often face barriers to justice. These nominees demonstrate the breadth of incredible attorneys from a diverse range of career backgrounds that all senators should be looking for in their recommendations to the White House.

One excellent example is Margaret Strickland, recommended by Senators Mark Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan to be a nominee for the District Court of New Mexico. In addition to her past work as a public defender, Strickland has spent the last decade as a prominent civil rights attorney in New Mexico.  She represented the family of a 14-year-old child who was attacked by unsupervised inmates at a county jail; the father of a child who was murdered after being released by child protective services to his mother even though her parental rights had been terminated; and a woman who was severely injured in a car crash but whose insurer subsequently tried to get out of providing coverage.

Similarly, in Washington State, after critical reforms to their merit selection committee, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell recommended outstanding attorneys — David Estudillo, Tana Lin, and Lauren King — who President Biden subsequently nominated to district court seats. Estudillo, the son of immigrant farmworkers, spent over a decade working as a civil litigator, representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases and fighting for immigrants at deportation and DACA hearings.

Tana Lin spent years representing workers and consumers as a litigator at a firm in Washington, and prior to that worked at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In those offices, she fought employment discrimination by entities like police departments and large private corporations, including Wal-Mart. She also served as litigation coordinator for Michigan Poverty Law Program and has performed significant pro bono work, most notably suing to block portions of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban.

Lauren King has spent much of her career representing Native American tribes and, if confirmed, would be only the fifth Native American federal judge in American history and the first in Washington. She litigated the largest treaty rights case in the history of the Western District of Washington, preserving tribal offshore fishing rights. King is a citizen of the Muscogee nation and also serves on the Muscogee Reservation Protection Commission.

These incredible advocates have a demonstrated commitment to equal justice, having spent their careers on the front lines of protecting Americans’ critical rights and protections, and yet lawyers like them have long been absent from the federal bench. The Senators recommending these outstanding civil rights champions deserve praise for selecting individuals from across the entire legal profession. This is in line with the goals detailed in White House Counsel Dana Remus’s letter and will go a long way toward ensuring the rights of all Americans, not just the wealthy and powerful, are properly protected in our justice system. These recommendations also encourage an entirely new generation of lawyers to pursue public interest work and actively better their communities, knowing that doing so does not foreclose future career opportunities and opportunities to serve as judges.

It is also encouraging that Senate Democrats, under the leadership of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, have moved expeditiously to hold hearings and schedule votes on all of Biden’s nominees, ensuring they will advance to the federal bench as quickly as possible. As the Senate moves to begin confirming judges in June, they are set to do so at a faster rate than under Presidents Trump or Obama.

After four years of Donald Trump and Senate Republicans packing the courts with ultraconservative ideologues, it is imperative that Americans who care about equal rights take back our justice system. The nominees put forward by President Biden so far have been qualified, fair-minded, and diverse, but there is still significant work to be done. President Biden and Democratic Senators must continue to prioritize judicial nominations and select nominees who are champions of civil rights from across the full scope of the legal profession, including advocates for workers, consumers, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, reproductive rights, people with disabilities, and the environment. The nominees in New Mexico and Washington serve as a model for future recommendations and are hopefully just four of the many outstanding lawyers who will bring fairness to the federal bench and ensure equal justice for all.