Colorado's senators have recommended three candidates to the White House to fill a vacancy in 2022 on the state's seven-member federal trial court.
The list includes two familiar names: U.S. Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang and intellectual property attorney Kenzo Kawanabe, both of whom were finalists for the most recent opening on the court. President Joe Biden nominated the other finalist in that group, workers' rights attorney Charlotte N. Sweeney, who is currently awaiting a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
In addition to Wang and Kawanabe, the list from U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper now includes U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher, who is based in Grand Junction.
"Due to their compassion, intellect and temperament, all three candidates would make excellent jurists and serve the people of Colorado with integrity," said the senators in an Oct. 7 letter to the White House.
Although the Biden administration and the Senate have made it a priority to fill judicial vacancies while Democrats control both branches of government, the recommendations from Bennet and Hickenlooper have provided exceptional lead time for an opening not occurring for nine more months.
U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello, a 2008 appointee of President George W. Bush, announced in August that she will take senior status in July 2022. Senior status is a form of retirement that will allow her to continue handling cases while also enabling the president to nominate a successor.
Wang has served as a federal magistrate judge since 2015, a position that involves many of the same duties as district judges, and can include presiding over civil trials. She immigrated from Taiwan as a child and graduated from Harvard Law School. Prior to taking the bench, Wang was an intellectual property attorney and worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office for Colorado.
Kawanabe grew up in the San Luis Valley and graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. He is now a partner at Davis Graham & Stubbs in Denver and previously worked as a clerk for the late Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey of the Colorado Supreme Court. Kawanabe was the first general counsel for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and his maternal grandparents were subjected to Japanese-American internment during World War II.
Gallagher has been a magistrate judge since 2012 and is also a criminal defense attorney. Between 1997 and 2000 he was a deputy district attorney for Mesa County. Gallagher has served as the chair of a working group to consider how the federal district court can handle cases from self-represented litigants in a more efficient and accessible manner. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Denver's law school.
This is the fourth federal judicial vacancy that Biden will be able to fill in Colorado. His first two nominees, Regina M. Rodriguez and Veronica S. Rossman, have since taken their seats on the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, respectively.
Nationwide, there are nearly 120 current and future vacancies for presidentially-appointed judgeships, many of which have nominees pending before the Senate.