Chevron defense firm lawyer one step closer to influential judgeship

Jennifer Rearden
Jennifer Rearden, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner nominated to serve as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, appears before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on March 2, 2022, in Washington, D.C. U.S. Senate/Handout via REUTERS
  • Jennifer Rearden is nominated to serve on the Southern District of New York
  • Some Senate Democrats have expressed concerns about Rearden, sources say

(Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Monday advanced President Joe Biden's nomination of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Jennifer Rearden to become a federal judge in Manhattan despite calls by activists to reject her over the law firm's work defending oil companies.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 22-0 to send Rearden's nomination to the Senate floor during the same hearing in which it considered Biden's selection of U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet the lower-profile nature of Rearden's nomination has not spared her from controversy after more than 200 environmental and public interest groups in a letter urged Democrats to take the rare step of voting against a Biden judicial pick.

Six Senate Democrats before Monday raised concerns about Rearden or had not committed to backing her, people familiar with the matter said.

They included Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who a spokesperson said was "concerned" about Rearden's involvement in a long-running environmental case involving Chevron Corp and the disbarred attorney Steven Donziger.

Gibson Dunn represented Chevron in battling Donziger to block enforcement of a $9.5 billion judgment in an Ecuadorian court over rainforest pollution. Donziger last year was convicted of criminal contempt related to the case. He is appealing.

But the six Democratic senators also included Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who joined with Republicans to deliver the first unanimous committee vote on a Biden judicial nominee.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the panel's ranking Republican member, backed Rearden, saying she "spent her career litigating at some of the best law firms in the country."

Rearden joined Gibson Dunn as an associate from Davis Polk & Wardwell in 1993 and made partner in 1994. Her clients have included Uber Technologies Inc, Home Depot Inc and the financier Lynn Tilton.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York recommended Rearden, a campaign donor, to Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump, whose earlier 2020 nomination of Rearden to the influential Southern District of New York expired without Senate action.

Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace USA and Law Students for Climate Accountability objected to her and Gibson Dunn's work defending clients in environmental, employment and housing litigation.

While Rearden was not Chevron's lead attorney in the case with Donziger, the groups cited records showing she did some work for it.

They argued Rearden "bears moral responsibility for the firm’s actions" even if she did not directly work on "troubling" matters like defending fossil fuel companies in climate change litigation.

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Chevron foe Donziger released from prison under COVID waiver

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at