Professor & Nominee Nina Pillard Appears Before Senate Judiciary Committee

July 24, 2013 —

Professor Nina Pillard Professor Nina Pillard

Georgetown University Law Center Professor Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, appeared before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary on July 24.

Committee Chairman (and Georgetown Law alumnus) Patrick Leahy (L’64), D-Vt., opened the hearing on Pillard’s judicial nomination. Pillard was nominated by the president to fill one of three vacancies on the 11-member court in June. 

“Professor Pillard has had a distinguished career as a practitioner, as an academic … she’s argued nine cases before the Supreme Court … spent her legal career in public service … and for the past 13 years, she’s worked as a professor at my alma mater, Georgetown University Law Center,” said Leahy, who noted that Pillard serves as faculty co-director of the Law Center’s Supreme Court Institute. 

Two other distinguished graduates of Georgetown Law also serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee: Sen Mazie Hirono (L’78) and Sen. Richard Durbin (L’69).  

Among those present supporting Pillard’s nomination were Elizabeth C. Dobbins, a recent graduate of the Virginia Military Institute — a school that Pillard helped open to women by writing the successful briefs in the landmark Supreme Court decision of United States v. Virginia — and retired Brigadier General Evelyn Patricia “Pat” Foote, one of the highest ranking women to serve in the U.S. military.

Pillard’s confirmation hearing drew letters of support from former lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, former prosecutors and law enforcement officials, Supreme Court bar practitioners, Virginia Military Institute alumnae, military officers and deans from law schools across the country. She also received support from such individuals as Viet Dinh, a Georgetown Law professor and former assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, and William Sessions, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1987 and served until 1993. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., presided over the hearing. “She is a person of extraordinary professional excellence and has a record of distinguished public service and devotion to the public interest,” Blumenthal said of Pillard. 

In her opening statement, Pillard said that “the system of laws and courts in our country is a precious heritage, and I take my acceptance of this nomination as my pledge to safeguard our great legal traditions.”  Later in her testimony, she stressed her experience providing nonpartisan advice and counsel, both to the ABA Committee that gave then-Judge Samuel Alito its highest rating when he was appointed to the Supreme Court, and to lawyers preparing for Supreme Court arguments as part of her work with the Law Center’s Supreme Court Institute, which mooted lawyers in every Supreme Court case last term without regard to their ideology or position. “When lawyers make their best arguments, the Court can make their best decisions,” she said.  

Pillard teaches civil procedure, constitutional law and a variety of upper-level seminars and courses. She has briefed more than 25 cases in the United States Supreme Court and has argued nine before that Court. She has also litigated cases in federal courts of appeals and trial courts around the country. Litigation highlights include United States v. Virginia (1996), which opened the Virginia Military Institute to women, and Nevada Department of Social Services v. Hibbs (2003), which sustained Family and Medical Leave Act rights against constitutional challenge.  

She served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice from 1998 to 2000 and as assistant to the solicitor general from 1994 to 1997. A magna cum laude graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, she clerked for Judge Louis H. Pollak of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 

In the next step of the process, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to refer Pillard’s nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Webcast is available here.

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