Cornelia Pillard

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Nina Pillard
Cornelia Pillard 2013.jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Assumed office
December 17, 2013
Appointed byBarack Obama
Preceded byDouglas H. Ginsburg
Personal details
Cornelia Thayer Livingston Pillard

(1961-03-04) March 4, 1961 (age 59)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Spouse(s)David D. Cole
EducationYale University (B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)

Cornelia Thayer Livingston Pillard (born March 4, 1961), also known as Nina Pillard, is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before becoming a judge, Pillard was a tenured law professor at Georgetown University.

She served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Assistant to the United States Solicitor General. At the time of her confirmation to the federal bench, she was among the most prominent U.S. 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 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 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 has been compared to Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her civil rights advocacy, and has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee.[2]


Pillard was born in March 1961 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[3] She graduated from Commonwealth School in Boston in 1978. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with Distinction in History from Yale College in 1983, where she graduated magna cum laude.[4] She then attended Harvard Law School, where she was an editor for the Harvard Law Review.[4] She received her Juris Doctor magna cum laude in 1987.[4]

Professional career[edit]

Pillard began her legal career in 1987 as a law clerk for Judge Louis H. Pollak of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.[4] Pollak was a former dean of both Yale and Penn Law Schools.[5]

Pillard's first permanent legal job was as Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York City and Washington, D.C. from 1989 to 1994.[4]

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.[4] She joined the tenure-track faculty at Georgetown Law in 1997.[4]

In 1998, Pillard was named Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel.[4] 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.[6]

Pillard returned to Georgetown Law in 2000, where she received tenure.[4] Pillard has taught more than a dozen different courses and seminars, and frequently teaches the core civil procedure and constitutional law courses.[4][7] Pillard also served 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.[8] In the 2012 term, the program held moot courts for counsel in 100% of cases argued before the Court.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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 prominent Supreme Court advocates.[4][11] Some of her landmark victories are now staples of law school textbooks.[12]

In the pathmarking case United States v. Virginia, Pillard wrote the Solicitor General's brief challenging the men-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).[13] 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.[14] 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 of Congress' 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.[15] 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.[16] She also successfully argued that the U.S. Constitution reserves the jury right in criminal cases to defendants charged with serious offenses.[17]

D.C. Circuit service[edit]

President Barack Obama nominates Pillard (center) and two others for the D.C. Circuit Court

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 District of Columbia Circuit.[18]

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.[19] 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.

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 as an extremist and radical feminist, noting that a paper she had authored analogized compelled maternity to "conscription,",[22] in objecting to her confirmation.[23][24]

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. 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.[25] On December 17, 2013, Pillard received her federal judicial commission.[26]

As a judge, Pillard extended the exclusionary rule to require police to knock-and-announce when executing an arrest warrant, over a dissent by Judge Karen L. Henderson.[27] Judge Pillard joined Henderson when they denied a petition by Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri to disqualify his military judges.[28] When in Meshal v. Higgenbotham (2016) Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Brett Kavanaugh threw out a claim by an American that he had been disappeared by the FBI in a Kenyan black site, Judge Pillard dissented, arguing the court should just create a new implied cause of action.[29] When Judge Pillard's panel found that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did not violate the Constitution's Origination Clause in Sissel v. United States Department of Health & Human Services (2014), Judge Kavanaugh wrote a lengthy dissent from denial of an en banc rehearing.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Pillard is the daughter of Boston University psychiatry professor Richard Pillard and Cornelia Cromwell Tierney. She is married to Georgetown law professor and current ACLU Legal Director David D. Cole and has two children, Sarah and Aidan Pillard.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nina Pillard nominated to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals". 25 November 2013.
  2. ^ "Meet The Next Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Senate Confirms Top Women's Rights Attorney To Federal Bench". Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  3. ^ "Pillard's Senate Judiciary Committee Nomination Questionnaire" (PDF). US Senate Committee on the Judiciary. June 13, 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 7, 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cornelia T.L. Pillard, Curriculum Vitae. Archived 2013-06-12 at the Wayback Machine (reviewed May 2, 2013)
  5. ^ Hevesi, Dennis. "Louis H. Pollak, Civil Rights Advocate and Federal Judge, Dies at 89", The New York Times. (May 12, 2012).
  6. ^ Office of the Solicitor General of the United States, About the Office, (reviewed May 2, 2013)
  7. ^ Bio of Professor Nina Pillard, (reviewed May 1, 2013)
  8. ^ a b Georgetown University Law Center, Supreme Court Institute, (reviewed May 2, 2013)
  9. ^ American Arbitration Association, President’s Letter and Financial Statements[permanent dead link] (2012)
  10. ^ 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)
  11. ^ Daily Writ, Top Female Advocates Before the Supreme Court (Apr. 30, 2012)
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 151 (1997)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. June 26, 1996. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  14. ^ "Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. May 27, 2003. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  15. ^ "Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690 (1996)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. May 28, 1996. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  16. ^ Scalia. "Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299 (1996)]".
  17. ^ "Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322 (1996)". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. June 24, 1996. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  18. ^ 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)
  19. ^ 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)
  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. ^
  23. ^ "Conservatives Gear Up For War To Keep Top Women's Rights Attorney Off The Bench". 24 July 2013.
  24. ^ "Nina Pillard, Post-Nuclear Nominee".
  25. ^ "Senate pulls an all-nighter to confirm Georgetown law professor to federal bench".
  26. ^ "Pillard, Cornelia Thayer Livingston - Federal Judicial Center".
  27. ^ Recent Cases: D.C. Circuit Holds that Exclusionary Rule Applies to Evidence Obtained as Result of Knock-and-Announce Violations Committed During Execution of Arrest Warrant, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 1112 (2016).
  28. ^ Recent Cases: D.C. Circuit Furthers Uncertainty in Appointments Clause Test for Executive Branch Reassignments, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 1452 (2016).
  29. ^ Recent Cases: D.C. Circuit Holds that U.S. Citizen Detained and Interrogated Abroad Cannot Hold FBI Agents Individually Liable for Violations of His Constitutional Rights, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 1795 (2016).
  30. ^ Recent Cases: D.C. Circuit Reaffirms that Affordable Care Act Falls Outside Scope of the Origination Clause by Denying Petition for En Banc Review, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 2003 (2016).

External links[edit]

Media related to Nina Pillard at Wikimedia Commons

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