The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden gets fourth pick on D.C. Circuit as Judge Rogers goes senior

A painting of Judge Judith W. Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. on May 6. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Judge Judith W. Rogers of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will take senior status in September, giving President Biden the opportunity to nominate a fourth judge to the influential court.

Rogers was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She has made significant marks throughout her career. She was one of 15 women in her Harvard Law School class, the third woman in the Criminal Division of the D.C. federal prosecutor’s office, the first woman on a D.C. mayor’s Cabinet and the first female chief legal officer for the city. She was intimately involved in the development of D.C.'s semiautonomous “home rule” after nearly 200 years of federal control, including legislation shaping the local court system. She was a judge first in on the city’s Court of Appeals, nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

Rogers wrote opinions upholding the D.C. Metro’s rejection of religious advertising, allowing construction of the Purple Line and endorsing patients’ access to experimental drugs. (The opinion on experimental drugs was overturned by the full circuit.)

During battles between the Trump administration and Congress during impeachment proceedings, she found that lawmakers must have access to some grand jury evidence and the right to enforce subpoenas in court. Just this March, she ruled in favor of an L.A. Times bid for search warrant records from an investigation into stock sales by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), citing “the powerful public interest.”

In the past three years, three judicial assistants left her chambers, saying they were belittled and chastised by the judge, according to a Washington Post report last month. She did not respond to requests for comment on that story; former law clerks defended her as demanding but fair. After an employee survey of workplace conditions at the D.C. federal trial and appeals courts, court leaders this spring scheduled training, including for judges, although some have resisted.

The influential circuit court is often a steppingstone to the U.S. Supreme Court. Biden’s first nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Ketanji Brown Jackson, has already been confirmed to a seat on the nation’s highest court. Florence Pan, a judge on the D.C. District Court, has been nominated to fill Jackson’s appellate seat. Michelle Childs, a federal judge from South Carolina whom Biden also considered for the Supreme Court, is awaiting a Senate vote on her nomination to the D.C. Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination on a vote of 17-to-5 in May.