NCJW supports Julie Rikelman. Here’s why:
Julie Rikelman’s life and experience has helped shape the lawyer she is and the judge she would be. She came to the United States from Ukraine at the age of six with her parents, Soviet Jews seeking freedom and equal treatment. Leaving the country where their family had lived for generations, Ms. Rikelman and her parents experienced firsthand the challenges of being a refugee, starting over with limited resources in a country where language and employment were challenging and discrimination was ever present. This family struggle, during her formative years, shaped her commitment to justice and approach to the law. In addition to clerking out of law school, Ms. Rikelman has worked in private practice and public interest litigation and has experience on a range of issues that could come before the First Circuit including corporate contract disputes, employment discrimination, and reproductive rights. Indeed, she has argued two major reproductive rights cases at the US Supreme Court. If confirmed, Ms. Rikelman would be the first immigrant woman and the first Jewish woman to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Julie Rikelman’s stance on important issues:
Julie Rikelman has dedicated her career to the protection of fundamental rights, including the rights to liberty and privacy. In her role at the Center for Reproductive Rights, she successfully argued June Medical Services v. Russo at the US Supreme Court in March 2020, preserving access to abortion in Louisiana by permanently blocking a law designed to shut down most of the state’s clinics. In December 2021, Ms. Rikelman argued the most important abortion rights case in 30 years at the Court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenged Mississippi’s 15 week abortion ban. She has led the Center’s efforts against invasive ultrasound laws, fought to preserve access to medication abortion, and defended the rights of young people in Florida and Alaska to make their own reproductive health decisions. Ms. Rikelman was also part of the Center’s team in Ferguson v. City of Charleston at the Court, successfully challenging a local policy requiring a public hospital to report to the police confidential medical information of low-income pregnant people of color.
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Ms. Rikelman immigrated to the United States with her family in 1979. She learned English as a second language, and says seeing her family’s struggle shaped her interest in civil rights from an early age. Ms. Rikelman frequently notes that this personal experience has forged her understanding of equal justice and the law and heightens her desire to serve as a federal judge. Similarly she has said that this experience would ground her commitment to fairness for all parties whose cases may come before her as a judge.
Julie Rikelman’s parents faced discrimination and antisemitism throughout their lives in Ukraine and wanted a better life for their children. Ms. Rikelman’s family emigrated to the United States when she was a young girl. Her family traveled for several months — from the Soviet Union to Austria to Italy to Boston, Massachusetts. She missed months of school while her family lived in temporary housing, and they relied on welfare, food stamps, and non-profit organizations dedicated to helping Jewish refugees. Growing up, she continued to witness her parents experience discrimination in various aspects of their lives, because of their national origin and because they were not native English speakers. Ms. Rikelman’s lived experience informs her approach to justice and commitment to a legal system that provides fairness and equal justice for all.
Ms. Rikelman’s family left the former Soviet Union to escape religious discrimination. Her parents were Soviet Jews seeking the freedom and equal treatment denied to them in the
country where her family had lived for generations. Her mother was blocked from medical school and her father was denied admission to any university in Ukraine because of their Jewish religion. They came to the US because of this country’s faithfulness to the rule of law and personal freedom, including religious freedom.
Following President Biden’s nomination of Ms. Rikelman to the First Circuit, a number of prominent politicians and legal scholars released statements in support. Professor Carl Tobias, the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond and a national expert on federal judicial selection, stated that “…Rikelman is incredibly well-qualified.” He added that she fits into the profile of judges that Biden is committed to appointing: people with experience in public service and social justice issues, like immigration, reproductive rights, or criminal defense. Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey both strongly support her nomination maintaining that, “Julie Rikelman is a distinguished lawyer who has spent nearly half of her twenty-five year career as the lead litigator for one of America’s premier women’s reproductive rights institutions.” They highlight that Ms. Rikelman’s familiarity with the Constitution and field of constitutional law adds intangible experience to the First Circuit.
Experience (and Pro Bono Work):
After law school, Ms. Rikelman clerked for Justice Dana Fabe, the first female Justice on the Alaska Supreme Court. She then clerked for the Hon. Judge Morton Greenberg on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. From 1999-2001, Ms. Rikelman was a Blackmun fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights. After her fellowship, Ms. Rikelman worked as an associate attorney at the firm Feldman & Orlanksy in Anchorage, Alaska, and a Senior Associate Attorney at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York. From 2006-2011, Ms. Rikelman served as the Vice President of Litigation at NBCUniversal before returning to the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2011 as a Senior Staff Attorney. In 2012, she was appointed the Center’s Senior Litigation Director, a role she has held since.
Education and Awards:
Ms. Rikelman received her AB, magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1993, and her JD, cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1997, graduating with honors for both degrees. In 2004, Ms. Rikelman won the National Law Journal Pro Bono award, and in 2021, she was named by Crain’s New York as one of its Notable Women in Law.