Nina Pillard

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Nina Pillard
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Assumed office
December 17, 2013
Appointed by Barack Obama
Preceded by Douglas Ginsburg
Personal details
Born (1961-03-04) March 4, 1961 (age 54)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard University

Cornelia Thayer Livingston "Nina" Pillard (US Listeni/ˈnnɑː ˈpɪ.lərd/, born March 4, 1961) is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She is widely viewed as a leading candidate to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Before becoming a judge, Pillard was a tenured law professor at Georgetown University. She also served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Assistant to the Solicitor General. At the time of her confirmation to the federal bench, she was among the most accomplished Supreme Court advocates in the United States, having argued nine cases and briefed more than twenty-five before the Court.

Pillard's nomination to the D.C. Circuit, along with the nominations of Robert L. Wilkins and Patricia Ann Millett, ultimately became central to the debate over the use of the filibuster in the United States Senate, leading to the controversial use of the nuclear option to bring it to the floor for a vote. She was narrowly confirmed by a vote of 51-44, with her detractors labeling her as one of the most liberal nominees to the federal bench in decades.[1]


Pillard was born in March 1961 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[2] She graduated from Commonwealth School in Boston in 1978. She earned a bachelor's degree with Distinction in History from Yale College in 1983, where she graduated magna cum laude.[3] She then attended Harvard Law School where she was an editor for the Harvard Law Review.[3] She received her J.D. magna cum laude in 1987.[3]

Professional career[edit]

Pillard began her legal career in 1987 as a clerk in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for Judge Louis H. Pollak,[3] a former dean of both Yale and Penn Law Schools.[4]

Pillard’s first permanent legal job was as Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York and Washington, D.C. from 1989–1994.[3]

In 1994, Pillard joined the Office of the Solicitor General of the United States, where she briefed and argued civil and criminal cases on behalf of the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.[3] She joined the tenure-track faculty at Georgetown Law in 1997.[3]

In 1998, Pillard was named Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.[3] That office provides authoritative legal advice to the President and all the Executive Branch agencies, including review of all executive orders and orders of the Attorney General.[5]

Pillard returned to Georgetown Law in 2000, where she received tenure.[3] Pillard has taught more than a dozen different courses and seminars, and frequently teaches the core civil procedure and constitutional law courses.[3][6] Pillard also serves as faculty director of Georgetown Law's Supreme Court Institute, a public service program that provides free assistance to attorneys preparing for arguments before the Supreme Court on a first-come, first-served basis.[7] In the 2012 term, the program held moot courts for counsel in 100% of cases argued before the Court.[7]

Boards and committees[edit]

Pillard supports fair and efficient private settlement of legal disputes through negotiation, mediation and arbitration. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Arbitration Association, and has been a board member there since 2005.[8]

Pillard served as Chair and an active reader on an American Bar Association Reading Committee that evaluated all of the writings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito for the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. The committee found Alito “well qualified” to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.[9]

Supreme Court practice[edit]

Pillard has argued nine cases and briefed more than twenty-five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, making her one of the nation's most accomplished Supreme Court advocates.[3][10] Some of her landmark victories are now staples of law school textbooks.[11]

In the pathmarking case United States v. Virginia, Pillard wrote the Solicitor General's brief, filed by the Justice Department under President George H. W. Bush, challenging the men-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).[12] In a 7-1 decision, the Court held that VMI’s exclusion of women violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and that the new, separate and different Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership did not remedy the violation.

While a member of the Georgetown Law faculty, Pillard successfully defended the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) against constitutional challenge in another landmark case, Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs.[13] Pillard represented William Hibbs, a state employee who was fired when he sought to take unpaid leave to care for his injured wife under the FMLA. Pillard, together with the United States Justice Department during the administration of President George W. Bush, which intervened to defend the law, argued that state employees should be able to rely on the FMLA. In a decision by then-Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Court ruled for Hibbs and upheld the FMLA’s application to state employees as a valid exercise Congress’s constitutional powers.

Representing the United States in Ornelas v. United States, Pillard won a significant victory for law enforcement, leading to clearer legal guidance to federal, state, and local officials conducting searches and seizures.[14] In an opinion by then-Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Court held that independent review of probable cause determinations by appellate courts was necessary to ensure the development and consistent application of search and seizure rules.

In other noteworthy cases representing the United States, Pillard sought robust “qualified immunity” protection of law enforcement personnel against lawsuits, shielding officials from the burdens of litigation and liability for reasonable decisions even where, in hindsight, they turned out to be wrong.[15] She also successfully argued that the Constitution reserves the jury right in criminal cases to defendants charged with serious offenses.[16]

President Barack Obama delivers a statement announcing the nomination of Robert Leon Wilkins, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, and Patricia Ann Millett

D.C. Circuit service[edit]

In May 2013, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that Pillard was under consideration by the Obama administration to fill one of three vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.[17]

On June 4, 2013, Obama nominated Pillard to serve as a United States Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to the seat vacated by Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, who took senior status on October 14, 2011.[18] On September 19, 2013, her nomination was reported to the floor by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10 ayes to 8 nays, the vote falling along party lines.[19]

On November 7, 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to invoke cloture on Pillard's nomination, in an attempt to cut off a filibuster from Republican senators.[20] On November 12, 2013, the Senate rejected the motion to invoke cloture by a vote of 56-41, with 1 senator voting "present".[21] Conservatives attacked her references to maternity as "conscription",[22] among other statements, in objecting to her confirmation.[23][24][25]

After the Senate moved forward in November 2013 with a rules change eliminating the filibuster on federal appeals court nominees, the Senate on December 10, 2013 voted 56-42 to invoke cloture on Pillard's nomination.[26] That paved the way for a final floor vote on Pillard's nomination. Shortly before 1 a.m. on December 12, 2013, the Senate confirmed Pillard in a 51-44 vote.[27] On December 17, 2013, Pillard received her federal judicial commission.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Pillard is the daughter of Boston University psychiatry professor Richard Pillard and Cornelia Cromwell Tierney. She is married to law professor David D. Cole and has two children.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Pillard's Senate Judiciary Committee Nomination Questionnaire" (PDF). US Senate Committee on the Judiciary. June 13, 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cornelia T.L. Pillard, Curriculum Vitae. (reviewed May 2, 2013)
  4. ^ Hevesi, Dennis. "Louis H. Pollak, Civil Rights Advocate and Federal Judge, Dies at 89", The New York Times. (May 12, 2012).
  5. ^ Office of the Solicitor General of the United States, About the Office, (reviewed May 2, 2013)
  6. ^ Bio of Professor Nina Pillard, (reviewed May 1, 2013)
  7. ^ a b Georgetown University Law Center, Supreme Court Institute, (reviewed May 2, 2013)
  8. ^ American Arbitration Association, President’s Letter and Financial Statements (2012)
  9. ^ See Statement of Stephen L. Tober concerning the Nomination of Honorable Samuel L. Alito to be Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Jan. 12, 2006)
  10. ^ Daily Writ, Top Female Advocates Before the Supreme Court (Apr. 30, 2012)
  11. ^ See, e.g., Kathleen M. Sullivan & Gerald Gunther, Constitutional Law (Seventeenth Edition) (2010), at 230-231, 598, 756; Erwin Chemerinsky, Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies (Third Edition) (2006), at 307-309; 755
  12. ^ "United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 151 (1997)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. June 26, 1996. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  13. ^ "Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. May 27, 2003. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  14. ^ "Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690 (1996)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. May 28, 1996. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  15. ^ Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299 (1996); Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304 (1995)
  16. ^ "Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322 (1996)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. June 24, 1996. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  17. ^ Michael D. Shear, Obama Plans 3 Nominations for Key Court (May 27, 2013); Juliet Eilperin, Obama to Launch to Reshape D.C. Circuit with 3 Simultaneous Nominations (May 28, 2013)
  18. ^ Associated Press, Obama nominates Millett, Pillard, Wilkins to federal appeals court in Washington, Washington Post (June 4, 2013); Michael D. Shear, Obama to Name 3 to Top Appeals Court in Challenge to Republicans, New York Times (June 4, 2013)
  19. ^ Senate Judiciary Committee
  20. ^ "Senate Floor Proceedings: Thursday, November 7, 2013". US Senate Periodical Press Gallery. Retrieved November 21, 2013. 
  21. ^ "On the Cloture Motion (Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Nomination of Cornelia T.L. Pillard, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the D.C. Circuit)". United States Senate. November 12, 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  22. ^
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  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Douglas Ginsburg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit