Senator Patty Murray with Tana Lin
Senator Patty Murray with Tana Lin (Courtesy of Senator Murray's office)

The Unit­ed States Sen­ate has con­firmed Seat­tle civ­il rights attor­ney Tana Lin to become a U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge for the West­ern Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton. She will be the first for­mer pub­lic defend­er, and first Asian Amer­i­can, to serve here on the fed­er­al bench. The Sen­ate vote to con­firm her Thurs­day was 52–45.

All 45 nay votes came from Repub­li­cans. Sen­a­tors Susan Collins, R‑Maine, and Lisa Murkows­ki, R‑Alaska, broke ranks to sup­port the nomination.

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west was oth­er­wise along par­ty lines:

Vot­ing Aye: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT), Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki (AK)

Vot­ing Nay: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Dan Sul­li­van (AK), Steve Daines (MT)

Lin is the third judge con­firmed this year to a dis­tin­guished but late­ly deplet­ed fed­er­al court that sits in Seat­tle and Tacoma.

Grant Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge David Estudil­lo was con­firmed in Sep­tem­ber, and, with her con­fir­ma­tion ear­li­er this month, Lau­ren King became the first Native Amer­i­can to serve as a fed­er­al judge in this state.

The three judges were nom­i­nat­ed by Pres­i­dent Biden on rec­om­men­da­tion from U.S. Sens. Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington.

A trio of con­fir­ma­tions, in five weeks’ time, is unusu­al in the slow-mov­ing Sen­ate, par­tic­u­lar­ly with sus­tained opposition.

Sen­ate Repub­li­can lead­ers Mitch McConnell, R‑Kentucky, and John Cornyn, R‑Texas, vot­ed against clo­ture on the Lin nom­i­na­tion, and opposed con­firm­ing the nom­i­nee. Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris had to appear as Pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate on Wednes­day to break a tie on anoth­er nomination.

“As an Asian Amer­i­can woman, the bar­ri­ers Ms. Lin has faced have inspired her to fight for equal jus­tice and access to pro­mote diver­si­ty with­in the legal field,” Cantwell said in a statement.

Soon-to-be Judge Lin is a grad­u­ate of Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty and the NYU Law School. She worked as a pub­lic defend­er in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and in the Civ­il Rights Divi­sion of the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment. She has served as board chair of the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union of Washington.

“It mat­ters, quite a bit I think, when a fed­er­al judge has rep­re­sent­ed clients who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer,” Mur­ray said in a Sen­ate floor speech.

“It mat­ters that Ms. Lin has rep­re­sent­ed Wash­ing­ton State farm­work­ers deal­ing with wage theft. It mat­ters that Ms. Lin stood up for refugees and immi­grants against uncon­sti­tu­tion­al exec­u­tive actions.”

The West­ern Wash­ing­ton dis­trict is one place where the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion did not pack the fed­er­al bench.

It began the year with just two active judges – Chief Judge Ricard Mar­tinez and Judge Richard Jones – while rely­ing on work of nine senior judges.

The local bench has deliv­ered far-reach­ing rulings.

Judge James Robart deliv­ered an injunc­tion, lat­er upheld by the U.S. 9th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, that halt­ed the Trump Administration’s first Mus­lim trav­el ban. A nasty Trump tweet decried what he called “a so-called judge.” Robart lat­er appeared on “60 Min­utes” to dis­cuss the hate mail and threats he received.

A 1974 rul­ing by U.S. Dis­trict Judge George Bolt upheld the right of treaty Indi­an tribes to half of Puget Sound’s salmon catch.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge William L. Dwyer, in 1992, ordered a halt to U.S. For­est Ser­vice tim­ber sales on spot­ted owl habi­tat in Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. At the time, old growth forests were being cut down on fed­er­al land at a rate of 60,000 acres a year. A rul­ing by Dwyer, which threw out Washington’s term lim­its ini­tia­tive, was echoed in a lat­er deci­sion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Boldt was a nom­i­nee of Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon. Judge Robart was nom­i­nat­ed to the fed­er­al bench by George W. Bush. Judge Dwyer was nom­i­nat­ed by Ronald Rea­gan, at the insis­tence of Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton, R‑Washington. Gor­ton would lat­er become a bit­ter crit­ic of Dwyer’s spot­ted owl ruling.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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