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Senate Judiciary Committee Acts on Judge Lucy Koh's 9th Cir. Nomination

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Judge Lucy Koh won't be asking attorneys if they're smoking crack from her seat on the District Court of the Northern District of California much longer. That's because Judge Koh is on her way up -- up to the Ninth Circuit.

Koh, who has been one of the most important and entertaining judges in Silicon Valley for years, was moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today by a vote of 13 to 7, several months after she was originally nominated in February. That leaves only a full vote in the Senate standing between Koh and her spot on the Ninth Circuit.

The Most Powerful Woman in Silicon Valley

Judge Koh was once named "the most powerful women in Silicon Valley," for her work presiding over disputes between tech giants like Apple and Samsung. (That's the case in which she asked an attorney, one lawyer for Apple, if he was smoking crack after he wanted to present 20 additional witnesses.) Of course, Koh's background isn't just in settling tech disputes. Before joining the bench, she worked as a DOJ prosecutor handling everything from bank robberies to tax fraud.

Koh's "strong hand and sharp tongue," as the San Jose Mercury News describes it, has won her plenty of fans, including here at FindLaw and in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Koh "is a nominee whom all senators -- Republican or Democrat -- should be proud to support," Senator Patrick Leahy said during today's meeting of the Judiciary Committee, after listing off Koh's numerous Republican supporters.

Senator Feinstein, Koh's local representative in the Senate and the woman who recommended her to the Ninth Circuit, also sang Koh's praises, extolling Koh's work ethic, "impeccable credentials," and distinguished record.

Not Over Yet

When Koh was first nominated, prognosticators predicted she'd have a rough time getting approved with any speed. "I think the likelihood of an Obama nominee to the 9th Circuit getting through the Senate in this election year is close to zero," University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman told the Mercury News at the time.

Koh's done better than some expected, but her nomination isn't finished yet. Now that she's been reported out of the Judiciary Committee, she'll need to be confirmed by the Senate. And that might not be easy.

Though she made it through the Committee, her nomination was opposed by Senator John Cornyn, who criticized a decision in which Koh ruled that the government needs warrants before tracking defendants using cell tower data. Expect to see similar concerns, and more general Republican opposition, echoed as Koh's nomination continues. And, of course, that's only if she comes before the full Senate. As Senator Dick Durbin noted at the conclusion of the Committee's meeting, 30 judicial appointees have been moved out of committee only to languish on the Senate's executive calendar.

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