Federal Courts and Nominations

Give Patricia Millett the Pay Cut She Deserves

Fights over judicial nominations are hardy perennials. The politics around them can become dispiriting.  So it is important to remember that beneath the political warfare, there are often unbelievably talented human beings, without any ideological agenda, who are willing to take massive pay cuts and subject themselves to the grueling confirmation process to serve the American public as a judicial officer.

Patricia Millett, a nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is the perfect example of this kind of nominee.

Millett currently co-heads the Supreme Court and appellate practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of the largest law firms in the country. While the salary paid to federal judges is nothing to sneeze at, it is unquestionably the case that Millett will be taking a very significant decrease in pay to join the D.C. Circuit rather than remain a partner at a law firm with revenues approaching $1 billion annually.

Of course, this kind of commitment to public service over financial incentive is no surprise to anyone who takes the time to look at her history. She has been a tireless advocate on behalf of members of the military and military spouses. (Millett herself is a military spouse, and had to juggle raising her two children with arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court of the United States while her Naval Reservist husband was deployed.) She represented pro bono a military reservist fighting an employment discrimination suit all the way to the Supreme Court. (She won 8-0.) She is a committed supporter and volunteer at homeless shelters, she is active in her church, and takes time to speak to students. Public service is a way of life for Millett and she would continue that deep commitment to public service on the federal bench.

But Millett wasn’t nominated to the D.C. Circuit because she is an exemplary military spouse.  She was nominated because she is one of the nation’s finest lawyers.   Graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. Federal appeals court clerk. Eleven years in the Office of the Solicitor General—under both Democratic and Republican administrations. 32 cases argued in front of the United States Supreme Court (second-most ever by a female advocate). Glowing recommendations from high-profile members of the Supreme Court bar, including the last seven former solicitors general (including George W. Bush’s two Solicitors General, Paul Clement and Ted Olson). Even Ted Cruz recognizes that Millett is nothing short of a legal rock star. In the same breath he used to tell her that he would oppose her nomination for partisan reasons alone, he praised her for her “very fine professional qualifications.”

Very fine, indeed. Preventing such an incredible legal talent from joining the federal bench would not only be a disservice to Patricia Millett but a disservice to the country.  The American people don’t deserve partisan brinksmanship, they deserve to have one of the nation’s brightest legal minds serving on one of our country’s most important courts.

Cross-posted on Huffington Post.

This article has been reprinted in the following publications

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