To use a football term---one no doubt she is familiar with ---the nomination of Denver attorney Regina Rodriguez to the federal bench is ‘in the red zone,’ that is, very likely to cross the goal line. Rodriguez, a trial lawyer with more than thirty years’ experience, has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court of Colorado.
This is not the first time Rodriguez name has been placed in nomination for a spot on the federal bench. In 2014, President Obama nominated Rodriguez but with the Senate in the hands of the Republicans, the nomination expired. While Rodriguez nomination languished, ex-President Trump sent the names of more than 220 nominees to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Senator pushed through nearly all of Trump’s selections, many with less than a decade practicing law and a number of others with zero courtroom experience.
Rodriguez is currently a partner at the Denver office of WilmerHale, a firm often named as one of the top attorney groups in the world. Its client list reads like a page from Fortune Magazine. Apple, Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb and others have each been represented by WilmerHale. Former Colorado Senator and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is also a member of the WilmerHale Denver office.
Rodriguez earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law. From there, as her résumé reflects, her legal trajectory has been stratospheric. She has served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Civil Division in the District of Colorado.
Rodriguez was born in Gunnison, Colorado, to a Mexican-American father and Japanese-American mother. Her late father, Pete, was the son of Mexican immigrants. He chose football as a career and like most who pursue the profession, found himself hop-scotching the country in various coaching jobs. He marched the sidelines in college jobs both big and small before ultimately landing in the pinnacle of the profession as an assistant coach with the Seattle Seahawks. As such, he was a pioneer as one of the first Latino coaches hired in the NFL.
Rodriguez’ mother chose teaching as a career and worked in the classroom and as an administrator in Denver Public Schools. But as a child, she and her family, along with more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans, were interned for the duration of World War II in American concentration camps. Her mother spent the war years in Wyoming’s Heart Mountain Relocation Center. At its peak, Heart Mountain housed more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans, making it---at the time---the third largest population center in Wyoming. (See related story on Japanese internment camp, Amache, page 7)
Katherine Archuleta, former Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, believes President Biden’s newest choice for the federal bench is nearly perfect. “Her nomination to the bench is an important one,” said Archuleta. “It showcases the skills we have in the Latina community.” Archuleta, a former Denver Public Schools teacher, also praised Rodriguez for her indefatigable energy as a volunteer. She lauded Rodriguez for sharing her legal expertise with families and community when they both served on the board of a Denver Montessori School.
Outside of practicing law, Rodriguez spends a great deal of time sitting on various local and national boards. She currently sits on the boards of Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, Latinas First, Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Girl Scouts of Colorado, Denver Ballet Guild and several others.
Archuleta also believes that Rodriguez own background will be an asset that is often missing on the federal bench. Her nomination, said Archuleta, reflects a new day. Diversity, said the former teacher and career political advisor, is too often missing “when cases come before the court.”
If Rodriguez is confirmed, she will be only the fifteenth Asian-American Pacific Islander and only the second Latina AAPI on the federal bench. Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper will carry Rodriguez’ name in when she sits for confirmation.
“Regina is an exceptionally qualified nominee, and her long track record of community service and pro-bono work demonstrates a deeply-held commitment to Colorado’s children, working families and underserved communities,” the two Colorado Senators said in a joint news release.
Former Colorado Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia praised the Rodriguez selection. “Regina has a history of working on both complex legal issues but also a commitment to people and people of color and a commitment to social justice,” he said. The Denver attorney, Garcia said, will bring “experience, wisdom and a different perspective than you typically see on the bench.”
But no nomination to the federal bench along with a lifetime appointment is free of objection and Rodriguez and her firm’s client list---big energy, big pharma, big insurance and high tech---has engendered backlash from progressive groups. Demand Justice, a progressive group that had wanted a candidate with a public defender or civil rights background to fill the vacancy called Rodriguez nomination ‘old boy/old girl’ business as usual. “That’s not what President Biden has asked for,” said Demand Justice’s Chris Kang. “It’s not what our courts need right now.”
But concern over just what kind of jurist Rodriguez will be, said Polly Baca, is a false alarm. “I’ve seen the woman who has been very concerned about our community,” said the former state legislator and federal official of Rodriguez. “I think it’s good that she’s had a corporate background…it’s important having diversity of experience.” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said Baca, brought a background similar to Rodriguez’ to the high court. Rodriguez, she said, will do the same. “She’ll be empathetic and look at all sides.”
Rodriguez is married with a family. Her confirmation hearing is set to begin on April 28th.