Allison Jones Rushing, a Williams & Connolly partner nominated to the Fourth Circuit, fended off questions about her relatively short time as a lawyer in a confirmation hearing Wednesday, after a Republican senator raised concerns over her “life experience.”
Rushing, if confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, would be among the youngest federal judges serving on the bench. She was born in 1982, and earned her law degree from the Duke University School of Law in 2007. Rushing, who has spent most of her career at Williams & Connolly, became a partner in January 2017.
In a series of questions, Sen. John Kennedy, the junior Republican from Louisiana, highlighted Rushing’s time as a lawyer, noting she graduated from law school 11 years ago, and questioned whether she had enough “life experience” to serve on an appeals court.
“I’m not trying to be rude. I can see your resume. You’re a rockstar,” Kennedy, presiding over Wednesday’s hearing, said. “But I think to be a really good federal judge you’ve gotta have some life experience. And tell me—Williams & Connolly is a great law firm, a lot of great lawyers there. Tell me why you’re more qualified to be on the Fourth Circuit than some of the Williams & Connolly [lawyers] that have been there for 20 years, 25, 30 years in the trenches?”
Rushing pointed to her experience as an appellate lawyer at the firm, where she’s worked since 2009, and argued she could handle the range of cases that reach the Fourth Circuit.
“My experience in the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court are why I’m qualified,” Rushing said. “Not only the depth of that experience, but the variety. The judges on the courts of appeals get a wide variety of cases, and I have that experience in criminal law, prisoner petitions, products liability, intellectual property, commercial disputes, constitutional issues, a vast array of federal statutes. I’ve litigated all of those cases on appeal, and I will be ready when those cases come before me if I am so fortunate as to be confirmed.”
Still, Rushing—who’s previously clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas and then-Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Tenth Circuit—avoided many of the difficult and testy exchanges that have bogged down other judicial confirmation hearings.
Only two Senate Judiciary Committee members—Republican Sens. Kennedy and Orrin Hatch of Utah—attended Rushing’s hearing Wednesday. The sparsely attended session lasted less than an hour.
The confirmation hearing was held despite the fact that the Senate is in a month-long recess ahead of the 2018 midterms. In the lead-up to Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers on the committee had called for postponing Rushing’s confirmation hearing. Republican senators, who hold the majority, contested that the minority side had previously agreed to hold these hearings.
During his portion of questioning, Hatch defended Rushing against criticism she’s faced. Left-leaning organizations that oppose her nomination have cited her work with the conservative Christian organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, and her earlier remarks about the Defense of Marriage Act.
Hatch on Wednesday described that criticism as the “latest example” of, in his view, “false narratives” and criticism spun over a nominee’s connections with the ADF.
Seated beside Rushing during her hearing was firm colleague Kannon Shanmugam, whom she described as a mentor. Shanmugam tweeted Wednesday morning that he would attend “to support my brilliant partner and dear friend.”