Public Service

Tana Lin joins David Estudillo, Lauren King as a new judge on Washington’s federal bench

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.

Joel Connelly

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