RALEIGH, N.C. – Called both a legal “rock star” by Republican senators and an “ideological extremist” by critics, Allison Jones Rushing had already landed what most lawyers would consider a career-defining position before turning 40. But the Trump administration may have even bigger plans.
President Donald Trump indicated that Rushing is on his short list of four or five nominees to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the U.S. Supreme Court. Confirmed just 18 months ago to the federal appeals bench, Rushing's relatively short legal experience, previous work with a conservative Christian legal group and litigation involving civil rights issues are sure to stoke Democrats and their allies to fight her pick.
The Hendersonville, North Carolina, native would bring both newness and familiarity to the court if confirmed. Born in 1982 and the mother of a toddler, she'd be the first millennial serving at the Supreme Court, where the current youngest justice, Neil Gorsuch, is 15 years older.
But as an appellate specialist while in private practice at the Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington, Rushing filed scores of briefs with the Supreme Court. She also clerked previously for two current, conservative justices — Clarence Thomas 10 years ago and for Gorsuch while he was at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
She was confirmed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia in March 2019.
“I can see your resume. You're a rock star,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said during her October 2018 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Duke University law school grad also clerked for Judge David Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Rushing has support from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who is helping lead the nomination process and also hails from the North Carolina mountains. But Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa have so far emerged as the top two contenders, according to people familiar with the process who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Within the White House, Rushing’s age is considered both an asset and liability.
The liberal-leaning Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, comprised of 200 national organizations, fought Trump's 4th Circuit nomination of Rushing, who ultimately was confirmed in March 2019 on a 53-44 party-line vote.
The group pointed out that she interned in 2005 for what is now called Alliance Defending Freedom, known for its opposition to same-sex marriage and expanded rights for transgender people. An ADF lawyer said last year that she spent that summer co-authoring a legal article about who can sue over religious displays on public property. The Leadership Conference also criticized briefs she filed for clients at the court involving fair housing and workplace misconduct.
Rushing "is a young, ideological extremist who has never practiced law in North Carolina,” Conference CEO Vanita Gupta wrote in 2018 to senators. “The Senate must oppose this controversial and unqualified nominee.”
During her Senate hearing, even Kennedy questioned the extent of Rushing's life experiences. She was first admitted to the bar in 2007 and had tried just four cases to a verdict or judgment. One included successfully defending HBO in a defamation lawsuit filed by a sporting goods company that claimed a show misled people into believing it used child labor for soccer balls.
“Tell me why you're more qualified to be on the 4th Circuit than some of the Williams & Connolly (lawyers) that have been there for 20 years, 25, 30 years in the trenches?" Kennedy asked.
“My experience in the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court are why I'm qualified — not only the depth of that experience, but the variety,” Rushing replied, citing criminal law, prisoner petitions, product liability and constitutional issues. “I've litigated all of those cases on appeal and I will be ready when those cases come before me” if confirmed, she added.
Rushing has written a large number of 4th Circuit opinions for a newcomer, although few of them would be considered high profile, University of Richmond School of Law professor Carl Tobias said this week in an email.
Born to parents who became public school teachers, Rushing apparently enjoys singing, listing chorus group memberships on her resume among previous endeavors. When asked during the hearing about any disappointments in life, Rushing said she wished she hadn't spent so much time focusing on her career, instead of the family she and her husband now had.
“I'd like to think that everything happens for a reason, and that even though things are disappointing they turn for the best,” she said.
Associated Press Writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington.