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Photo: The Senate Judiciary Committee
Florence Pan has made history as the first Asian-American woman federal judge in D.C. Photo: The Senate Judiciary Committee

D.C. gets its first Asian-American woman district court judge in Florence Pan

The UPenn graduate was due to be appointed in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama, but was never confirmed by his successor.

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On Thursday, Sept. 23, the U.S. Senate made history by confirming Florence Pan as the first Asian-American woman to serve as a federal district court judge in Washington D.C.

The 68-30 vote came shortly after the U.S. Senate Judiciary voted to advance five of President Joe Biden’s other judicial nominees, including Toby Heytens, the Virginia state solicitor general nominated to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pan was previously a federal prosecutor who has served as judge on the D.C. Superior Court since 2009, working in the Civil Division, Criminal Division and Family Court. She also served in the District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office for 10 years.

She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with two undergraduate degrees in 1988. Pan received her Juris Doctor degree, cum laude, from Stanford Law School in 1993, where she was an Associate Editor of the Stanford Law Review and student body president.

Pan was first nominated to the federal court in 2016 by former President Barack Obama. But despite a favorable vote from the then-Republican controlled Judiciary Committee, she was never confirmed, and when President Donald Trump took office, he nominated Dabney Freidrich to fill the seat she had been up for. 

In March, Biden announced he would nominate Pan again to fill the seat that would be empty once Ketanji Brown Jackson won Senate approval to replace Attorney General Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C, which she did in June

Jackson, a Black woman, has been viewed as a potential nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court if a vacancy emerges. Pan’s nomination furthered Biden’s overall pledge to bring more diversity to the federal judiciary. 

“The Senate just confirmed Judge Florence Pan to the district court in D.C. In 2021, the Senate has confirmed 14 nominees — including 8 women of color — to the federal bench,” civil rights organization, The Leadership Conference, tweeted on Thursday. 

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Sept. 22, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, spoke on the importance of Pan’s nomination. 

“The historic nature of Judge Pan’s nomination will help build a federal bench that reflects full diversity,” Durbin said. 

In a statement, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton celebrated Pan’s confirmation, highlighting the significance of Asian-American representation at this level during a time of increased racial violence. 

“D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan has the professional experience and academic credentials to be an outstanding federal district court judge. At this time in history, when Asian-Americans are literally being attacked, her confirmation by the Senate today holds particular importance. I have full confidence that she will offer excellent service on our U.S. District Court,” Norton said. 

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