Senators, others back Nelson nomination to U.S. judgeship

Senators, others back Nelson nomination to U.S. judgeship

By:  Peter Wong

Adrienne Nelson, having gotten hearty endorsements from Oregon's U.S. senators and many others, awaits a vote of a Senate committee and the Senate itself on her nomination as a U.S. District Court judge.

The Senate Judiciary Committee considered President Joe Biden's nomination of Nelson, now a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, to fill the vacancy created by Judge Michael Mosman's move to senior status at the end of 2021. The committee has not yet scheduled a vote, which would advance the nomination to action by the full Senate.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, had praised her nomination when Biden announced it July 14. Nelson would be the first Black woman to sit on Oregon's U.S. District Court.

Others who filed statements with the committee in support were all six of her colleagues on the Oregon Supreme Court in a joint letter; Billy Williams, U.S. attorney for Oregon from 2015 to 2021, now with a law firm in Bend; Max Williams, recently retired president of the Oregon Community Foundation and a former Republican state representative, now in Beaverton; retiring Sheriff Mike Reese of Multnomah County, also a former Portland police chief; John Haroldson, Benton County district attorney, and Maria Pope, chief executive of Portland General Electric.

No statements were filed in opposition.

Wyden statement

Wyden's statement Oct. 12 to the Judiciary Committee:

"I've been a part of the selection process for a lot of judicial nominees. In that process, you look for candidates whose deep understanding of the law is matched by a commitment to service and impartiality. Having known Justice Nelson for several years, I can tell you that nobody fits that bill better than she does.

"The work ethic, the integrity, and the legal acumen Justice Nelson has displayed throughout her career are among the many reasons why leaders from all over Oregon have voiced support for her nomination. … Those letters of support describe Justice Nelson as a hard-working individual, a person of humility, and a jurist committed to fairness and justice for all. Bottom line, there's no questioning Justice Nelson's top-notch qualifications for the District Court. Adrienne Nelson will make an excellent federal judge."

Merkley statement

Merkley's statement to the committee:

"Justice Nelson has already left her mark on history as the first Black American to sit on our state's highest court, or any of Oregon's appellate courts. And, if confirmed for this seat, Justice Nelson will once again make history as the first Black woman to sit on Oregon's District Court.

"But beyond her historic nomination, Justice Nelson will bring with her a wide breadth of judicial and legal experience, not only as a judge but also from her years serving as a public defender and in private practice. I fully support Justice Adrienne Nelson's nomination for this federal judgeship, and I urge each of my Senate colleagues to support this groundbreaking nomination."


Nelson, 55, has been on the Oregon Supreme Court since January 2018.

She would be only the third justice in the past half century to sit on the U.S. District Court, following Alfred "Ted" Goodwin in 1969 and Robert E. Jones in 1990. Goodwin was elevated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1971; he has had senior status since 1991. Jones took senior status in 2000. Susan Graber, also a former Oregon Supreme Court justice, went directly to a 9th Circuit judgeship in 1998. She took senior status at the end of 2021. (Senior status allows judges to draw full salaries and hear cases, but opens up their positions for new appointees.)

The statement from her Oregon Supreme Court colleagues ended:

"… We are unanimous in voicing our opinion that Justice Nelson will make an excellent addition to the federal bench. We recommend her without reservation, although the federal judiciary's gain will be our personal and professional loss."

While Nelson would be the first Black woman to hold a federal judgeship in Oregon, she was preceded by Ancer Haggerty, who was a Multnomah County judge when President Bill Clinton named him to a U.S. District Court judgeship in 1994. Haggerty, who is Black, took senior status in 2009 but is inactive and does not take part in court business.

Nelson came to Oregon three decades ago after earning a bachelor's degree in English and criminal justice in 1990 from the University of Arkansas, and her law degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1993.

She worked for Multnomah Defenders Inc. from 1996 to 1999, and the Portland firm of Bennett, Hartman, Morris & Kaplan from 1999 to 2004. She was senior adviser for student legal and mediation services at Portland State University from 2004 until Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed her to Multnomah County Circuit Court in 2006. Gov. Kate Brown named her to the Supreme Court starting in 2018.