Soon after President Barack Obama formally announced three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, there wasn’t much — if any — public criticism of the qualifications of the candidates. The nominees — Patricia Millett, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins — would come to the bench with long, distinguished careers in the law.
Millett, who leads the Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, is one of Washington’s best-known appellate litigators, coming in tops among women who have argued the most cases before the high court. Millett and Arnold & Porter’s Lisa Blatt have traded places as the leader, with Blatt now sitting at the top — by one — with 33 cases argued.
Millett’s argued in federal appellate courts across the country. In the D.C. Cir­cuit, her clients have included Starbucks Corp. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. In 2010, Millett convinced the appeals court to block the U.S. Department of Defense from releasing documents under the Freedom of Information Act about Sikorsky’s business operations.
In October, Millett argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that government wiretaps in the case against hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam violated constitutional rights. Millett argued there were "outright false statements" in an affidavit seeking a wiretap.
Arguing in the Supreme Court in March, Millett represented challengers to Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship voter-registration requirement. Millett said "the district court found that 31,550 people were rejected from voting because of Proposition 200" amid "no evidence that they were not citizens."
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1987, Pillard clerked for Judge Louis Pollak of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She then spent several years on civil rights work, first as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union and later at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
From 1994 to 2000, Pillard was an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, serving in the solicitor general’s office and the Office of Legal Counsel. She joined the Georgetown University Law Center faculty in 1997, where she’s taught civil procedure, constitutional law, legal theory, employment and corporate responsibility.
As a legal scholar, Pillard has written on topics ranging from civil procedure to the limits of executive power. She was critical of the Bush administration’s torture policy, writing in a 2006 article that the administration’s "legal decision making bespeaks prerogatives of power more than limitations of law."
In speeches and articles, she has advocated for policy and cultural changes that would promote greater equality in family care. In 2012, she spoke on a panel that included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about equal protection and women’s rights.
Wilkins was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in December 2010 after a long stint in private practice. At Venable, before he joined the bench, Wilkins practiced trial and appellate work in the firm’s corporate defense, white-collar, technology and commercial litigation practices. The National Law Journal in 2002 named Wilkins, who also formerly worked for the Public Defender Service in Washington, one of the top "40 under 40" most successful litigators. Wilkins was the lead plaintiff in a landmark racial-profiling suit rooted in a traffic stop in Maryland in 1992.
Until recently, Wilkins was the presiding judge in the prosecution of Jesse Jackson Jr. in a corruption case. After Charles Ogletree, one of his mentors and a close Obama friend, appeared as defense counsel, Wilkins recused. The judge had earlier indicated that, during his Harvard Law School days, he served as co-chairman of a student group that supported the presidential bid of Jesse Jackson Sr.
In another case that drew national attention, Wilkins served on a three-judge panel in Washington that refused to allow Texas to implement its controversial voter-identification law. (D.C. Circuit Judge David Tatel, a potential future colleague, wrote the decision for the panel.) Wilkins now is presiding over the corruption prosecution of Scott Bloch, a former George W. Bush administration lawyer who ran the Office of Special Counsel.