WASHINGTON (AP) — Patricia Millett knows how to fight. The potential Supreme Court nominee earned a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do.
But nothing — not her 32 Supreme Court arguments, not her difficult confirmation to become a federal judge and not her 15 years working in government — may prepare her for the showdown set for any nomination President Barack Obama makes to the court to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month.
Before becoming a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2013, Millett had spent time working as a government lawyer and in private practice. She spent four years in the Justice Department's civil division and 11 years at the Office of the Solicitor General, whose attorneys argue on behalf of the government before the Supreme Court. Her high court arguments, for the government and in private practice, are the second most by a woman.
As a government lawyer she served under both Democratic and Republican presidents. She argued at the Supreme Court in favor of police checkpoints where drivers were randomly stopped and dogs sniffed for drugs, and against releasing graphic photos of the body of Clinton White House lawyer Vince Foster following his suicide.
Later, as a private attorney arguing at the high court, she represented a man convicted of murder in Texas and a man prosecuted for selling videos with dog-fighting scenes. She argued against an Arizona law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship and represented a group of victims suing the former prime minister of Somalia over claims that he oversaw human rights violations.
Millett was one of three people Obama nominated to the appeals court in Washington in June 2013. Republicans initially blocked all three nominees, arguing that the powerful court, which had three vacancies, didn't have the workload to justify three more judges.
Republican resistance so infuriated Democrats that they exercised what's called the "nuclear option," engineering the Senate rules so that only 51, rather than 60, votes were needed to act on the nominations. The switch led to Millett ultimately being approved 56-38. Two Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined with Democrats to confirm her.
If Obama were to pick Millett for the Supreme Court, arguments over her confirmation likely wouldn't dwell on whether she's qualified. Even Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas acknowledged her "very fine professional qualifications" at her 2013 confirmation hearing. Millett hasn't been a judge very long, just over two years, but Justice Clarence Thomas had served just 16 months on the same appeals court before his 1991 nomination to the Supreme Court.
If Millett does get the nod, expect to hear that she's part of a military family. Her husband served in the Navy.
Appeals to history also would accompany her nomination, or that of any woman. If a woman fills Scalia's seat, the court would have four women serving together for the first time.
Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at twitter.com/jessicagresko. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jessica-gresko