Julie Rikelman speaks at a press conference with the Supreme Court building in the background.

Prominent Abortion Rights Lawyer Just Confirmed as Federal Judge

A rock star of the reproductive rights movement now has a lifetime federal judgeship after being confirmed over the objections of various male Republican senators and anti-abortion groups, who can go ahead and cry about it.

Recommended Videos

With a vote of 51–43, the Senate approved the appointment of Julie Rikelman to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, putting perhaps the most prominent abortion rights lawyer in the country on the federal bench. As the litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights since 2011, she has built a reputation as a devout defender of abortion providers in federal court.

Her appointment comes a year after Rikelman argued forcefully in favor of choice when representing a Mississippi clinic in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court Case that overturned Roe v. Wade, in which she made genuinely hard-to-argue with points like:

Women have an equal right to liberty under the Constitution, Your Honor, and if they’re not able to make this decision, if states can take control of women’s bodies and force them to endure months of pregnancy and childbirth, then they will never have equal status under the Constitution.

Deep sigh. It would have worked if six conservative justices hadn’t been absolutely determined to gut Roe from the start.

President Joe Biden nominated Rikelman one month after the Dobbs ruling in an effort to bolster the federal bench with people who actually know and care how reproductive systems work, but Republicans held up the confirmation process for months. At her confirmation hearing in September, Sen. Mike Lee objected to the fact that she called the Dobbs decision “egregiously wrong,” Sen. Josh Hawley asked her why she referred to so-called crisis pregnancy centers as “faux-clinics,” and Sen. Ted Cruz called her an “extreme zealot.” We already knew she was awesome, but thanks, guys, for confirming.

As a Ukrainian American whose family fled religious persecution in 1979, Rikelman is also the first immigrant woman and the first Jewish woman to serve on the 1st Circuit.

All 49 Democrats present voted yes on her confirmation, joined by Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins—a small repayment on the debt they owe us after taking turns to help put Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.

Speaking of Coney Barrett, recall that former president and two-time indictee Donald Trump appointed her to a federal judgeship just three years before nominating her for the Supreme Court shortly before he lost the 2020 election. If Rikelman follows a similarly aggressive career track, she could be back in the Supreme Court building championing our civil rights by midway through Biden’s second term!

Anyway, one can dream.

(featured image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Erika Wittekind
Erika Wittekind
Erika Wittekind (she/her) is a contributing writer covering politics and news and has two decades of experience in local news reporting, freelance writing, and nonfiction editing. Her hobbies and special interests include hiking, dancing in the kitchen, trying to raise empathetic teen boys, and keeping plants alive. Find her on Mastodon at @erikalyn.newsie.social.