Biden nominated Rooplai Desai for 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals



President Joe Biden nominated Arizona attorney Roopali Desai, who has represented Democrat candidates and the Democratic Party on several high-profile election challenges in Arizona, to fill a vacancy on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Desai was part of the legal teams that defended Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, and the Arizona Democratic Party in multiple cases that sought unsuccessfully to overturn the 2020 election.

The announcement made Wednesday noted she would be the first South Asian person to serve on the 9th Circuit. Desai’s parents came to the United States from India.

“I have known Roopali for over 10 years. In that time, I have seen her deep respect and understanding of the law up close. She is a trusted legal expert highly regarded across the political spectrum in Arizona, known for her integrity and fairness,” Sinema, who advocated for the Indian American attorney’s nomination, said Wednesday in a statement to The Arizona Republic. Desai was legal counsel and campaign attorney for Sinema.

The U.S. Senate must confirm Desai before she takes the position, but one expert on judicial appointments said that while she should expect challenging questions, Desai should not have difficulty getting that support.

“I think she’ll do fine in the hearing, and I think she’ll go through,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor. “She seems very well qualified. Her litigation experience shows why she could be a fine judge. She’s been in the middle of those kind of critical issues that federal courts resolve.”

Kirk Adams, the former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and a conservative Republican strategist worked both against and with Desai, including on a 2020 ballot measure called the Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act, which failed to gather enough signatures for the ballot.

“The most you can hope for from an opponent working against you is that they are fair. I think that describes Roopali,” Adams told The Republic earlier this year. “Even when she’s an opponent, she’s fair.”

He also said she has high political acumen.

“Second Chances was good example of that,” said Adams of the measure where they worked on the same side. “When trying to make big improvements like criminal justice reform, you really can’t do it with one side cramming it down the throats of the other side.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly also applauded her nomination.

“Roopali is a respected and well-regarded legal expert in Arizona. I congratulate her on this historic nomination and appreciate the administration’s process to elevate talented and experienced Arizonans to the federal bench,” Kelly said in a released statement.

Currently a partner at the law firm Coppersmith Brockelman, Desai was earlier at Lewis & Roca and also had served as a law clerk for former 9th Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder, from 2005-2006.

A 1996 graduate of Barry Goldwater High School in north Phoenix Desai earned a bachelor’s, master’s and law degree from University of Arizona. She has three young daughters.

In one of several cases Desai handled in late 2020 and early 2021, state GOP Chair Kelli Ward sought to have a court void the outcome of Arizona’s presidential election — which Biden won by 10,457 votes — based on claims involving how officials count ballots that tabulation machines can’t read.

Ward’s team failed to prove any of the claims, the courts repeatedly found.

Desai also won a case for the Arizona School Boards Association — and significantly altered how the Legislature does its work — in January when the Arizona Supreme Court voided dozens of laws that the lawmakers improperly tied to the state budget.

Among the laws the court threw out was a ban on mask mandates in schools.

In recognition of the impact of her work in 2021, the USA Today named Desai among its Women of the Year.

The vacancy on the court stems from Judge Andrew Hurwitz, who serves on the 9th Circuit and is based in Arizona. He notified Biden earlier this year he planned to transition to a form of semi-retirement called senior status with the court this month and upon the confirmation of a successor.

Desai was among seven judicial nominations Biden made Wednesday.

“These choices also continue to fulfill the President’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds,” the announcement from the White House said.

Wednesday’s nominees also include people who would be the first Latino to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the first woman of color to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, and the first openly LGBT federal district court judge in Puerto Rico, according to the announcement.


[Photo courtesy:Brockelman]