- Longtime influential lawyer
- Was an appellate staffer with the Clinton Justice Department from 1992-96
- Served as Assistant to the Solicitor General from 1996-2007
- Was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (by President Barack Obama) in 2013
Born in 1963 in Dexter, Maine, Patricia Millett earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1985 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School three years later. After completing her education, she worked as an attorney in Washington, DC from 1988-90; clerked for Judge Thomas Tang of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 1990-92; was an appellate staffer with the Clinton Justice Department’s Civil Division from 1992-96; and served as Assistant to the Solicitor General from 1996-2007. Over the course of her legal career, Millett has argued more than 30 cases before the United States Supreme Court. In 2010 the National Law Journal named her as one of Washington’s Most Influential Women Lawyers. In 2011-12 Washingtonian Magazine cited her as one of Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women. And in 2013 the National Law Journal identified her as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.
During Barack Obama‘s first term in the White House, Millett lobbied for the confirmation of several of the President’s most activist judicial nominees, including Edward DuMont, Caitlin Halligan, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.
Millett has been outspoken on the subject of gay marriage, stating that “the heart of the question” is “whether the federal government can define marriage in a certain way as between one man and one woman.” Noting, in a 2012 interview, that Washington had theretofore held that same-sex couples “can’t have thousands of federal benefits,” Millett voiced her hope that the Supreme Court would one day resolve the matter in a way that promotes a greater measure of “fundamental fairness.”
In 2009, when it became evident that the left-leaning Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter would soon be retiring from their posts, Millett stated that gender ought to be a factor in the process by which President Obama would select candidates to replace them.1
Millett was also vocal regarding the 2010 Supreme Court case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, where the Court upheld the UC Hastings College of Law’s decision to ban the Christian Legal Society (CLS) as a registered student group because the latter did not permit non-Christians to be members—thereby violating a school policy requiring campus organizations to accept all students regardless of their beliefs. Millett—siding with the high Court’s decision—wrote a law-review article stating that “a policy requiring groups to accept all comers bolsters [the] purpose [of] community involvement,” whereas “a policy allowing exclusionary groups diminishes it.” The University’s policy of denying approval to CLS, said Millett, was “due decent respect.”
On June 4, 2013, President Obama nominated Millett as well as Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins to fill three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—the nation’s second-highest court, and one that is often called upon to resolve critically important cases involving the separation of powers, the role of government, the rights of federal officials, and the decisions of administrative agencies. When their confirmations were subsequently filibustered by Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Harry Reid called for the Senate to lower the number of votes required to break a filibuster (in cases involving judicial and executive nominees), from the traditional 60 to a simple majority. On November 21, Reid’s historic proposal was pushed through the Senate without any Republican support.
The Senate confirmed Millett in a 56-38 vote on December 10, 2013.
1 “I think,” said Millett, “the pressure to have a Supreme Court that looks—in many ways, and gender is just one way—but in many ways is reflective of the public it serves will require that a woman get serious consideration.” “There was a lot of upset,” Millett added, “over the failure to put a woman to replace [retired] Justice Sandra Day O’Connor” in 2006, when President Bush had appointed Samuel Alito to fill O’Connor’s vacated seat on the bench. By Millett’s reckoning, Bush’s failure to name a woman to the Court was “a sorry statement about the appointment process” of “the last eight years.”