The federal judge who will oversee former President Donald Trump’s case in Washington related to challenging the 2020 election outcome has a reputation for being tough on Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants.
An appointee of Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has ruled against the Trump administration in the past, as well as against Trump as an individual.
After his third indictment on Tuesday, the 45th president will be arraigned in the District of Columbia on Thursday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. However, if the case goes to trial, Chutkan would preside.
Here’s four things to know about Chutkan.
1. Hunter Biden’s Old Law Firm
Although Chutkan, 61, earned a reputation for taking a hard line on sentences for Jan. 6 rioters, her background before the bench is one of defending accused criminals—white-collar defendants and those who couldn’t afford lawyers.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, she received her bachelor’s degree in economics from George Washington University and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, according to her court biography.
In law school, she was the associate editor of the law review and a legal writing fellow.
After three years in private practice, Chutkan was hired by the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service, where she was a trial attorney and supervisor.
After 11 years with the public defender, she joined Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, a Democrat-leaning law firm, where President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, previously worked.
While there, she specialized in litigation and white-collar criminal defense. She also represented clients in antitrust class-action litigation.
In late 2013, Obama appointed Chutkan to the federal district court post in the District of Columbia. The Senate voted 95-0 to confirm her nomination in June 2014. This final vote came after a more contentious cloture vote of 54-40.
2. Jan. 6 vs. George Floyd Riots
Chutkan was indignant about comparisons between the riots that broke out in cities across the country after the May 2020 police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
She even invoked the “mostly peaceful” narrative for describing the riots by Black Lives Matter and Antifa militants.
“People gathered all over the country last year to protest the violent murder by the police of an unarmed man. Some of those protesters became violent,” Chutkan said during an October 2021 court hearing. “But to compare the actions of people protesting, mostly peacefully, for civil rights, to those of a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government is a false equivalency and ignores a very real danger that the Jan. 6 riot posed to the foundation of our democracy.”
The AP has reported that Chutkan was the only judge of about two dozen presiding over prosecutions of some 600 Jan. 6 defendants who routinely imposed sentences that exceeded what federal prosecutors had asked for.
She either matched or exceeded prosecutors’ recommendations in 19 of the 38 sentences after other judges handed down sentences more lenient than what prosecutors asked for.
Special counsel Jack Smith, the Trump prosecutor, might have been fortunate in getting the judge, as the AP reported on her reputation toward Capitol riot defendants since June 2022.
In cases where federal prosecutors didn’t even seek jail time against Jan. 6 defendants, Chutkan nonetheless sentenced them to between 14 and 45 days.
Chutkan argued that jail and prison sentences would deter future “anti-democratic” factions.
“Every day, we’re hearing about reports of anti-democratic factions of people plotting violence, the potential threat of violence, in 2024,” she said when sentencing one defendant to five years, according to the AP. “It has to be made clear that trying to violently overthrow the government, trying to stop the peaceful transition of power and assaulting law enforcement officers in that effort is going to be met with absolutely certain punishment.”
3. ‘Presidents Are Not Kings’ Ruling vs. Trump
In November 2021, Chutkan ruled against Trump, who as a plaintiff filed an emergency motion to prevent the National Archives from providing information to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the Capitol.
Trump lawyers argued giving records to the committee would undermine privileges aimed at protecting a president’s ability to have candid conversations.
Chutkan ruled against Trump.
“His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,’” Chutkan wrote in her opinion. “But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.”
4. Two Rulings vs. Trump Administration
In 2017, the first year of the Trump administration, Chutkan ruled that the Office of Refugee Resettlement must allow a juvenile illegal immigrant in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to have an abortion. That was in the case of Garza v. Hargan.
In 2019, Chutkan ruled that Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, illegally delayed the implementation of the “Equity in IDEA” (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) regulations that update how states calculate racial disparities in special education.
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