A federal judge who stepped down just hours after President Trump was sworn in to office has been chosen to lead the court system under his successor, with a role that could have wide-ranging implications for civil rights and immigration issues.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken’s nomination to a seven-year term on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was confirmed Thursday by the Senate. Aiken, a judge since 1995, left the bench Feb. 9 after President Trump asked him to step down to comply with a clause in the federal code of judicial conduct that bars judicial officeholders from participating in partisan political activities, including endorsements of political candidates.
The nomination sends Aiken, 68, to a circuit court that covers the District of Columbia and numerous states including Maryland, Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Delaware, Illinois, New York, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Utah, Pennsylvania, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
Aiken is just the latest person to be appointed to the court by President Barack Obama, taking over the case load and mission of a court that has had a role in a number of the most divisive issues of the last few years, including affirmative action, the reproductive rights of women, as well as voting rights and sanctuary cities.
The city of Washington is also well-represented on the D.C. Circuit, with five members of the bench and two associate justices from New York, one of whom is a former solicitor general.
Aiken’s nomination received the sort of bipartisan support that usually goes unreported in Washington, a testimony to the judge’s reputation for fairness and impartiality. Democrats who supported her nomination applauded the confirmation process, saying she’s an experienced jurist who can be independently appointed.
“Judge Aiken’s experience as a former U.S. Attorney and a longtime judge gives her a unique perspective on the implementation of Executive Branch policy and reflects President Obama’s commitment to appointing experienced, fair and independent judges,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary Committee who voted for Aiken.
In a written statement Thursday, Aiken said she was honored and humbled by the appointment, which she called a “great honor” and “a privilege.” She said she looks forward to wearing the black robe for the next seven years.
“I have great respect for my colleagues on the D.C. Circuit and am dedicated to the independence of this great institution,” she said.
To the previous nine members of the court, Aiken is most known for taking on the landmark immigration case, Flores v. Reno. The case arose when Anabel Flores sued the U.S. government in 1995 after she was detained and deported from the United States because of a juvenile offender conviction under a policy that told authorities not to return any minors to countries where they were at risk of violence.
The case landed in the hands of Aiken, who decided Flores would represent a major constitutional issue and that she was “at liberty” to stay on the bench while it was argued in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Two weeks after the arguments, the 9th Circuit issued an order to immediately release Anabel Flores. The case was argued before the Supreme Court in 2009 and six months later the court issued a landmark ruling, sending the case back to the 9th Circuit for a rehearing.
Aiken said the ruling taught her and others on the bench about the role of a “check and balance” of the administration.
The Obama administration has appointed nearly all the 11 district judges and five associate justices to the D.C. Circuit. Aiken replaces Judge Stephen Williams, who stepped down on June 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.