A paean to the rule of law opened her two-page statement explaining why she wanted to serve on the Arizona Court of Appeals.
“For all its imperfections, the rule of law in this nation truly is a wonder, and it is no wonder that it is the envy of the world,” wrote Kristina Reeves, 43, an appellate litigator and retired Navy officer, as part of a dossier of materials she submitted on May 31 to the state committee that will recommend judicial candidates to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican.
The problem was that her soaring rhetoric closely echoed that of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, in the opening statement he delivered before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2017.
“And for all its imperfections, I believe that the rule of law in this nation truly is a wonder,” said Gorsuch, whom President Trump nominated in January 2017 to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. “And it is no wonder that it is the envy of the world.”
The bromide was one of numerous pronouncements that the attorney in Mesa, Ariz., appeared to lift from Gorsuch’s statement before the committee, as well as from remarks delivered by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. at his confirmation hearing in 2006. She cited neither justice in her short essay, which concludes with the finding that, “Our democracy does not work without people who are willing to do the work.”
The resemblances between the statement prepared by Reeves, a registered Republican and member of the Federalist Society, and those supplied by the conservative judges in their pursuit of seats on the Supreme Court were brought to light last week by the Arizona Capitol Times.
The weekly newspaper reported that the plagiarized passages had raised alarm bells for the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Scott Bales, who chairs the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. He asked an administrator to contact the applicant, who was informed last Tuesday that she had quoted “verbatim from Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s 2017 opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Reeves asked if she could submit a new statement of interest, but the state would only allow an addendum, saying her original letter would stay.
The attorney withdrew from consideration for the appellate judgeship on Friday, the Capitol Times reported. “Good morning, Please inform the members of the commission that I am withdrawing my application. Thank you,” she wrote in an email.
She didn’t return a request for comment over the weekend.
The scrutiny is hardly unique to Reeves. Gorsuch faced questions of his own, in the final days of the contest over his nomination in April 2017, about whether several passages in his 2006 book too closely resembled a 1984 article in the Indiana Law Journal. The author of the article was untroubled by the similarity, she told BuzzFeed News, which reported the parallel phrasing and citations.
Reeves was born in Safford, Ariz., to a father who served in the military. Her grandfather’s family, members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, left Oklahoma during the Great Depression to look for work and settled in what is now Solomon, Ariz.
She attended college at the University of California at Los Angeles, on a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, studying philosophy. It was under the Navy’s Law Education Program that she attended law school at the University of Chicago, graduating in 2003.
While in law school, she participated in the Minority Students Association and the campus chapter of the Federalist Society, according to the dossier she submitted to the commission. Among her professors, as she advertises on her website, was Barack Obama, who taught at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.
Reeves retired from military service in 2012, spending several years at home with her young children. In 2015, she went to work for the Arizona attorney general’s office, focusing on capital litigation, and began her own practice, Reeves Maxwell Law, three years later. In addition to the Federalist Society and the Republican National Lawyers Association, she is also a member of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association and the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, an organization whose participants are mostly members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In her application materials, she noted that no Native American had ever been named to one of Arizona’s state courts. Meanwhile, of the state’s 28 appellate court judges, she wrote, only five were women. She said she would bring diversity to the court on both fronts, while also contributing a different perspective as one of the first members of her family to earn a college degree and the first to earn a professional degree.
Among a slew of answers submitted to the state, Reeves responded “No” to the question, “Have you ever been terminated, asked to resign, expelled, or suspended from employment or any postsecondary school or course of learning due to allegations of dishonesty, plagiarism, cheating, or any other ‘cause’ that might reflect in any way on your integrity?”
But in the statement of interest included in her 69-page submission, she seemed to borrow repeatedly and liberally from Gorsuch, sometimes simply switching the gender of a pronoun.
“A judge who likes every outcome she reaches is probably a pretty bad judge,” she wrote, in a clear echo of Gorsuch’s affirmation that, “For the truth is, a judge who likes every outcome he reaches is probably a pretty bad judge.”
She invoked the “honest black polyester” of courtroom robes as a reminder that a judge was no one’s social better. Gorsuch had declared: “Ours is a judiciary of honest black polyester.”
Her account of the judiciary’s responsibilities — “neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the people’s disputes” — and its relationship to the other branches matched Gorsuch’s. So, too, did her vow that putting on robes required a judge’s willingness to “lose her ego, and open her mind.” That people’s lives were at stake in the findings of judges, rather than “just some number or a name,” was a principle that Gorsuch had articulated, using the very same words.
Her definition of an effective jurist resembled the account offered by Alito in his opening statement, when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “Good judges are always open to the possibility of changing their minds,” she wrote, enlisting the exact same words as had the Supreme Court nominee.
Reeves did not credit either member of the nation’s top court for the ideas or language she appeared to draw from them. She did, however, emulate them in citing luminaries of the American legal tradition.
She invoked the warning of Alexander Hamilton that judges only became threats to liberty when they failed to simply apply the law and, instead, “try to legislate too.”
She was not the first to apply the quotation. Gorsuch had used it, too.
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