Senate Confirms Nancy Maldonado Will Be Illinois’ First Hispanic Female Federal District Court Judge

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

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

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

The senators who did not vote were Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

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

Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator 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 significant demographic diversity to the bench as the first Hispanic woman to serve as an Article III federal judge in the state of Illinois.

Article III is a reference to Article III of the Constitution which governs federal judges appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to positions in the Supreme Court, appellate and district courts.

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

Maldonado was born in Skokie in 1975 and lives in Wilmette. She spent most of her legal career at Miner, Barnhill & Galland, PC, the same Chicago law firm that in 1993 employed a young rookie attorney, Barack Obama.

She started as a paralegal with the firm while studying law, 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 also looked for candidates with different life experiences — such as defense attorneys or public defenders, or in Maldonado’s case, a lawyer with a civil practice — and not a criminal one.

Most of his legal work, Maldonado said in his questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been in federal courts — 99% of his work involving civil litigation.

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

The detailed 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 present, Maldonado has taught at Heaven Meets Earth Yoga Studio in Evanston. She also teaches yoga, since 2019, at the Claretian Missionaries Service Corporation in the Loop. She served as president of the Evanston-based Chicago Yoga Project in 2019.

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

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 St. Nicholas Parish, “with a large number of Spanish-speaking members, and I have enjoyed working with English-speaking and Spanish-speaking parents in the religious education of their children and in the creating inclusive lesson plans”.

From 2001 to 2003, his journey to court included a clerkship for United States District Court Judge Ruben Castillo. Before retiring, Castillo served as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois – the first Hispanic to hold that office in the district.

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

In 2019, Maldonado became a member of the Illinois State Police Merit Board, appointed by Governor JB Pritzker.

In 2015, she served as chair of the board 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 female Hispanic judge serving on the federal bench in Chicago — but not in a confirmed Senate — or Article III position. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez, before being appointed to the Northern District Bench, was Chicago Regional Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

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