Politics & Government

At 36, North Carolina native picked by Trump for lifetime appointment

Allison Jones Rushing
Allison Jones Rushing Courtesy of Williams & Connolly LLC

Allison Jones Rushing’s resume is sparkling — graduated with honors from Wake Forest and Duke Law School, clerked for Neil Gorsuch before he became a Supreme Court justice and Clarence Thomas while he was on the high court, joined a high-powered D.C. law firm, earned several distinctions for her work.

Now the 36-year-old Rushing is up for a more prestigious and long-lasting position: judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rushing, a registered Republican, was nominated by President Donald Trump on Aug. 27 to replace retiring judge Allyson Kay Duncan on the court, which serves North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia and has been in the spotlight for several high-profile cases in recent years.

But Rushing’s lack of overall experience could be a problem with the American Bar Association, which gives nominees a “well qualified,” “qualified” or “not qualified” rating. As part of its evaluation criteria for federal judges below the Supreme Court, the ABA prefers that nominees have 12 years’ experience practicing law. Rushing joined Washington-based Williams & Connolly in 2011, according to The National Review.

The ABA has not issued a rating on Rushing. It typically takes 45 days to do so, though Trump has been nominating judges quickly. Rushing is part of his 17th wave of judicial nominees, according to the White House.

“The Committee believes that a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least twelve years’ experience in the practice of law. In evaluating the professional qualifications of a nominee, the Committee recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important,” according to the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which hands out the ratings.

“Due consideration will be given to distinguished accomplishments in the field of law or experience that is similar to in-court trial work — e.g., appearances before or service on administrative agencies or arbitration boards, trial experience before tribal courts, or teaching trial advocacy — and may be considered as a substitute for a nominee’s lack of substantial courtroom experience.”

All or the majority of the ABA committee, which consists of 13 members, has rated five of Trump’s judicial nominees as not qualified. Of those five, three have been confirmed, one withdrew and one is awaiting action. The most similar case to Rushing is Holly Teeter, who graduated law school in 2006. Rushing graduated law school in 2007. The ABA committee cited her lack of experience in giving Teeter a “not qualified” rating, according to the ABA. Teeter, however, was confirmed by the Senate for a district court judge position for Kansas.

At her current age, Rushing would be the youngest judge confirmed since 2002, according to the Federal Judicial Center, which tracks the history of the judicial branch.

Judge David Bunning, the son of former major league pitcher and Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed in February 2002 to be a district court judge in Kentucky. Bunning was 35 at the time of his confirmation and had 10 years’ experience as an assistant U.S. attorney. He remains on the court.

Rushing has focused on appellate matters, constitutional issues and regulatory challenges, according to her Williams & Connolly biography. The bio states that she has argued before federal courts of appeals and federal district courts. She was named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers.

Neither of North Carolina’s U.S. senators were bothered by her lack of years practicing law. Both touted her experience in statements after her nomination.

Allison Rushing has an incredible wealth of judicial experience and is regarded as one of the best legal minds in the country,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Said Republican Sen. Richard Burr: “I’m pleased to see a respected and qualified North Carolinian, Allison Rushing, nominated to serve on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. ... Ms. Rushing brings the right experience and skill to the Fourth Circuit, and I look forward to supporting her nomination.”

Rushing is Trump’s third nominee for the 15-member court of appeals. The court was long viewed as a conservative stalwart, but has moved left in recent years as it became populated with appointees by President Barack Obama. The Senate confirmed the first two Trump nominees — Marvin A. Quattlebaum and Julius Richardson.

The court struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, claiming it and other voting provisions targeted African-Americans with “surgical precision.” It ruled in favor of a transgender teen being able to use the bathroom of his gender identity. And Judge James A. Wynn, an Obama appointee to the 4th Circuit, recently wrote a majority opinion in a case ruling North Carolina’s current congressional maps unconstitutional and suggesting new maps may need to be drawn before November’s elections.

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Rushing was born in Henderson County in western North Carolina, where her parents were born, raised and worked as teachers in the Henderson County public school system, according to Henderson County historian Jennie Jones Giles, a relative of Rushing.

Rushing’s family has deep roots in the area, tracing their origins in the region to the 1780s. East Flat Rock, which is in Henderson County, is 100 miles west of Charlotte and 35 miles north of Greenville, S.C.

Rushing attended East Henderson High and graduated from Wake Forest with degrees in music and political science in 2004, according to the school. She was executive editor of the Duke Law Journal. She clerked for Gorsuch, then a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2007 and 2008, for Chief Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 and 2009 and then for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2010 and 2011, according to her Williams & Connolly profile.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC