Senate confirms Nancy Maldonado: To be first Hispanic woman federal district court judge in Illinois

The extensive questionnaire Maldonado filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee reveals that the Northern District is adding an active yoga instructor to the bench.

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The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Chicago attorney Nancy Maldonado to be a federal judge. She is the first Hispanic woman to join the U.S. District Court for the Northern District in Illinois.

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Chicago attorney Nancy Maldonado to be a federal judge. She is the first Hispanic woman to join the U.S. District Court for the Northern District in Illinois.

Senate Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday — in a history making vote — confirmed Chicago attorney Nancy Maldonado to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

When she is sworn-in, Maldonado becomes the first Hispanic woman confirmed by the Senate to serve in the Northern District, which, since created some 200 years ago, has been dominated by white male judges.

Maldonado was confirmed on a 53-45 vote, with two senators not voting. The three Republicans who backed her were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The senators not voting were Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

In June, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Maldonado’s nomination to the Senate floor on a 13-9 vote.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said in a joint statement, “Not only does she have the qualifications, integrity, and judgment to serve with distinction, but she will also bring important demographic diversity to the bench as the first Hispanic woman to serve as an Article III federal judge in the state of Illinois.”

The Article III is a reference to Article III of the Constitution which governs federal judges nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to spots on the Supreme Court, appellate and district courts.

THE NANCY MALDONADO STORY —- CIVIL LAWYER, YOGA INSTRUCTOR, NOW JUDGE

Maldonado was born in Skokie in 1975 and lives in Wilmette. She has spent most of her legal career at Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C., the same Chicago law firm that in 1993 employed a young lawyer just starting out, Barack Obama.

She started as a paralegal at the firm while in law school, becoming a partner in 2010.

In seeking to diversify the federal bench — dominated by former prosecutors — President Joe Biden has looked beyond race and gender. Biden has also been seeking nominees with difference life experiences — such as defense lawyers, or public defenders, or in the case of Maldonado, a lawyer with a civil — not criminal — practice.

Most of her legal work, Maldonado said in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, has been in federal courts — with 99% of her work involving civil proceedings.

Maldonado graduated Harvard University in 1997 and received her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2001.

The extensive questionnaire Maldonado filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee reveals that the Northern District is adding an active yoga instructor to the bench.

From 2018 to the present, Maldonado has taught at the Heaven Meets Earth yoga studio in Evanston. She also teaches yoga, since 2019, at the Claretian Missionaries Service Corporation in the Loop. She was president of the Chicago Yoga Project, based in Evanston, in 2019.

Maldonado told the committee, “I hope to continue teaching yoga on the weekends and serving on various community boards, as time and ethical rules allow.”

She also taught “weekly religious education classes to first graders” at her church and “on occasion still serve[s] as a substitute teacher.” Maldonado is a member, she said, of the Saint Nicholas parish, “with a large Spanish-speaking membership, and I enjoyed working with both English-and-Spanish-speaking parents in their children’s religious education and in creating inclusive lesson plans.”

Her road to the court included clerking, from 2001 through 2003, for U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo. Before he retired, Castillo served as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois — the first Hispanic to hold this position in the district.

In 2021, she was tapped by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to serve as a Special Assistant Attorney General investigating consumer fraud.

In 2019 Maldonado became a member of the Illinois State Police Merit Board, appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

In 2015, she served as president of the board of directors of the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. Maldonado is also a former board member of La Casa Norte in Chicago.

FOOTNOTE: There is another Hispanic female judge sitting on the federal bench in Chicago — but not in a Senate confirmed — or Article III — position. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez, before being appointed to the Northern District bench, was the Chicago Regional Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).


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