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

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

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

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.