The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado held a formal investiture ceremony on Friday for Regina M. Rodriguez — one of President Joe Biden's first judicial nominees — in the presence of her friends, family and dignitaries from all branches of government.
But some of the most touching comments came from Rodriguez's husband, Arnold Woods.
"Judge Gina," he said with a grin. "You talked about this long ago. It makes me very proud to see that my wife who’s a supermom, a superwife, a supersister, a superfriend, is now officially a superjudge.”
Rodriguez, who is 58 this year, won Senate confirmation in early June to Colorado's seven-member federal trial court. She is the first Asian American to serve as a district judge in the state. Although Rodriguez was sworn in last month, Friday's special session of the court gave Rodriguez the chance to don her robes and recite the oath of office in a public setting.
"This has been a long time coming. It has been a long journey," she said.
Five years ago, President Barack Obama first nominated Rodriguez to the district court with the support of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and then-U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The Republican-controlled Senate, however, did not take up her nomination.
In February, Bennet sent her name to the White House again as the sole recommendation for another vacancy. Gardner's successor, U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, also supported her re-nomination.
"When Sen. Bennet called me and said, 'Are you still up for this?' I did have to take a moment, I will admit," she said. "Ultimately I had to say yes because this is the service I dreamed about for all of my life."
Bennet was in attendance at the Alfred J. Arraj Courthouse in downtown Denver, and his remarks weaved in his "near-death experience" of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. That event, Bennet said, made him fear that people who saw the United States as a land of refuge or opportunity would lose faith in the country as a democracy.
"Just by virtue of her taking this job is gonna send a signal across the state of Colorado and to all other places that this country is becoming more democratic and more free rather than less so," Bennet said. "And when we fulfill the promise of pluralism, which is every person ought to be able to make a contribution to this democracy no matter where their parents come from, no matter the color of of their skin — that’s when we reach the highest ideals of our Constitution."
Rodriguez's mother, an educator, was interned at a Wyoming camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. Her Mexican-American father was a football coach, and her family moved every few years for his job.
Also speaking at the investiture was Ken Salazar, newly confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and who previously served as a Cabinet secretary, U.S. senator for Colorado and state attorney general. Hickenlooper also recorded a brief video message.
Prior to her nomination, Rodriguez worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado and was a partner at various Denver law firms. Most recently, she worked at the global law firm WilmerHale, and her client list included Fortune 500 companies. She thanked the senators and Rosemary Rodriguez, a former aide to Bennet and elected official in Denver, who she characterized as her "sherpa" throughout her confirmation.
Rodriguez told the crowd she realized she had "made the right decision in giving up my cushy private practice life” after presiding over her first jury trial as a federal judge during the week of August 2. With her ability to focus on the jury, she was impressed at how seriously the jurors took their service.
"It really was our government — by the people, for the people," she said.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Philip A. Brimmer administered the oath of office to Rodriguez during the special session of the court, which included the pledge to "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."
Brimmer also praised the senators for shepherding Rodriguez through the confirmation process in what he deemed "near record" timing. Colorado Politics previously reported that Bennet and Hickenlooper have managed to secure nominees for all three of the federal judicial vacancies that arose in Colorado since Biden took office, even as openings piled up in other states.
"We have a couple of vacancies that are going to be occurring within the next year, and I’m sure Sen. Bennet will agree that he will be able to pull off similar miracles," Brimmer quipped.
Aside from U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, who is taking a form of retirement known as senior status next month, the list of current judges who will soon be eligible to retire includes Christine M. Arguello, a George W. Bush appointee, as well as Raymond P. Moore and William J. Martínez, both Obama appointees.
The most gripping speech of the investiture came from former Denver District Court Judge Christina Habas, who spoke directly to Rodriguez.
"We need truth tellers in our lives when we take on that black robe, people who will not hesitate to tell us and keep us real," she said. "Even when we sit on these high benches and we wear these pretty robes, we are the least important people in the courtroom. That’s a fact. Never forget it."
Habas said that a judge's only job is to ensure people leave their courtroom feeling heard. She also advised to "just go dead" — meaning to maintain a physical appearance of neutrality — and to practice doing so.
But Habas emphasized a need to guard against bad habits that could creep into the manner in which a judge treats others.
"There’s something about the robes that sometimes works strange magic on people. Everybody swears when they put on a black robe they’re never gonna change. I know I did," she said.
"Some people become despots in their courtroom and they have so many rules, it's designed for people to fail. Some people view it as an easy bridge to retirement," Habas added. "Oh, it’s not that. This is the hardest job you will ever love. And for some people, it seems to remove the last bit of human kindness that they have."
Rodriguez's calendar so far has largely consisted of her first jury trial case, Macaluso v. State Farm. The dispute involved a motorist injured by another driver, with the motorist alleging her insurance company failed to properly investigate and compensate her. The jury awarded the plaintiff $375,000.
The investiture required an overflow room to accommodate the crowd. No pictures or recordings were permitted, and masks were mandatory. Also in attendance were:
• Colorado Supreme Court Justices Monica M. Márquez, Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Maria E. Berkenkotter and Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright
• Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich and Judge Allison H. Eid of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
• U.S. District Court Senior Judges Lewis T. Babcock and Robert E. Blackburn, as well as Arguello, Jackson, Moore and U.S. District Court Judge Daniel D. Domenico
• Acting U.S. Attorney for Colorado Matthew T. Kirsch and his counterpart, Federal Public Defender Virginia L. Grady
• Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers
• Rodriguez's husband, Woods; children Nya and Miles; mother Linda; and sister Marla