by Julie Kelly
How does the same radical, Obama-appointed judge end up on so many “randomly assigned” panels to decide appeal cases for Donald Trump and January 6 defendants? Coincidence or the Swamp in action?
The Department of Justice’s free reign over the district court in Washington, D.C. is about to undergo a number of stress tests. Prosecutors now boast a near-perfect conviction rate on January 6 cases thanks to the federal bench’s rubber-stamping of almost every government demand; more than 1,200 Americans, according to a new report, so far have been ensnared in the DOJ’s retaliatory manhunt for individuals who protested Joe Biden’s election nearly three years ago.
To that end, the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse located in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol acts as a legal and judicial laboratory in the development of new tools to use in the regime’s war on terror against what Joe Biden calls “MAGA extremists”—which includes the leader of the alleged terror cell, Donald Trump. In quick fashion, the DOJ and federal judges of both parties have weaponized the law to criminalize political dissent while creating new crimes of terrorism in a dangerous escalation of lawfare aimed at roughly half the country.
But this new arsenal will face scrutiny at the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as a number of January 6-related appeals wend their way through the system. To be sure, the appellate court, stacked with appointees of Barack Obama, so far has done little to frustrate the DOJ’s winning streak. Recent opinions upheld lower court orders that forced Twitter to turn over Trump’s account data to Special Counsel Jack Smith; pierced attorney-client privilege between Trump and his personal lawyer in the classified documents case; and twice handed the government a slim victory on its use of 1512(c)(2), a post-Enron scandal obstruction law, against January 6 defendants. (The issue likely is headed to the Supreme Court, as I explained here.)
The court docket for cases tied to Trump and January 6 defendants is filling up fast. On November 9, the court will hear oral arguments on Trump confidant Steve Bannon’s appeal of his conviction for contempt of Congress. The fast-tracked appeal of Judge Tanya S. Chuktan’s broad, unconstitutional gag order on Team Trump, which is on temporary hold, will be heard on November 20.
But there is something ironic—or not—about the court’s handling of what must be considered historic rulings with long term consequences for the country: the consistent presence of one controversial judge.
Spin The Wheel, Get the Same Result
U.S. Circuit Court Judge Cornelia Pillard is one of 15 jurists on the appellate court, but she continues to appear on three-judge panels tasked with deciding the most politically charged cases. Pillard, appointed by Barack Obama in 2013, will hear the Bannon and the gag order appeal this month. She recently cast the deciding vote in favor of DOJ’s application of 1512(c)(2) in J6 cases in a 2-1 split opinion. Pillard also backed the district court orders that compelled Twitter and Trump’s lawyer to produce records to the government.
Last month, Pillard joined two colleagues in refusing to put on hold the D.C. Bar Association’s trial of Jeffrey Clark, a former Trump DOJ associate, as he appeals the matter. And in December, Pillard is scheduled to hear “Cowboys for Trump” founder Couy Griffin’s appeal of his trespassing conviction for his conduct on January 6.
So, what gives? Federal rules require the “random” selection of judges to sit on a three-person panel to initially review cases at the appellate level—how does Pillard keep popping up on so many weighty J6 cases? A coincidence or just another example of Democrats rigging the system against Donald Trump and his allies?
This is, after all, Washington, D.C.—the same place where judges on secret courts worked hand in glove with federal prosecutors and Democratic operatives to initiate the bogus Trump-Russia collusion investigation. Further, Attorney General Merrick Garland was the chief judge of the circuit court before he landed his latest gig; his successor also is an Obama appointee.
And Pillard is no run-of-the mill judicial pick. In 2013, Senate Democrats and Obama pulled out all the stops to ensure her confirmation amid strong Republican opposition to her extremist views. (Pillard once compared pro-life activists to the Ku Klux Klan.)
A stalemate ended after then-Senate Majority Leader invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to halt a filibuster and approve Pillard by a simple majority vote.
Since then, Pillard has returned the favor. She blocked both a court order seeking Hillary Clinton’s deposition in a lawsuit over her use of a private email server and the release of grand jury material from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Another Friend of Fatima
Democratic activist groups fought hard to get Pillard on the bench. One group that took credit for winning Pillard’s confirmation fight was the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington-based nonprofit. In a 2014 annual report, the NWLC bragged it “played a key role in the high-profile confirmations…of Cornelia Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, including by coordinating coalition efforts to engage key constituencies, such as women’s bar associations, [and] opposing filibusters of the nominees in the Senate.”
NWLC’s vice president at the time was Fatima Goss Graves; she is now president and CEO of the $100 million organization that advances radical leftwing causes including abortion on demand and transgender rights. As I wrote here, Goss Graves also is part of a coalition seeking the removal of Clarence Thomas from the Supreme Court. She maintains close ties to the Biden White House.
Helping Pillard earn her spot on what legal observers consider the second most powerful court in the land didn’t end the working relationship between Pillard and Goss Graves. The pair participated in a panel discussion following a speech by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about a year before she died.
Pillard and Goss Graves currently serve on the board of directors for Equal Justice Works, which “brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, legal services organizations, and supporters to promote a lifelong commitment to public service and equal justice.”
None of this represents anything untoward especially in the professionally incestuous compound of Washington—until you take into account who Goss Graves is married to. Her husband is Matthew Graves, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia appointed by Biden in 2021.