Why Social Justice Champion Nicole Berner Belongs on the Federal Bench

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit nominee Nicole Berner is an exceptional civil rights and labor rights lawyer deeply committed to equal justice for all who would make a tremendous addition to the federal bench. Nominated by President Joe Biden in November 2023, Berner has spent her illustrious career litigating for workers’ rights, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights, showcasing her deep understanding of how the law impacts the lives of women, girls, and LGBTQ people.   

Here’s why we’re excited about her nomination: 

  • Berner defends workers’ rights and is committed to social justice. Since 2006, she’s served at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representing the union in state and federal court to defend workers’ rights. First as in-house counsel for eleven years, and from 2017 to present as general counsel, Berner has advocated on behalf of workers’ rights to organize a union and collective bargain, defend the Affordable Care Act, protect LGBTQ rights, and safeguard the right to vote. Unions and the fight for workers’ rights have been critical to advancing gender justice and civil rights for women, families, people of color, and LGBTQ people. 
  • Berner understands the importance of reproductive freedom, including abortion care. During her time as a staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 2004 to 2006, she worked to protect and expand access to reproductive health care. She litigated cases protecting medication abortion in Ohio and defending young people’s right to access abortion care in Missouri. She continued this advocacy at SEIU, centering the stories of people seeking abortion care. 
  • Berner has stellar credentials. She earned her B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, from University of California, Berkeley. She went on to earn her J.D., Order of the Coif, from U.C. Berkeley School of Law where she concurrently earned an M.P.P. from U.C. Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. After law school, she went on to clerk for Chief Judge Thelton Henderson on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and Judge Betty Fletcher on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, gaining valuable experience on judicial decision-making to start off her legal career. 
  • Berner will bring an important underrepresented perspective to the federal bench. If confirmed, Berner would be the first openly LGBTQ person to serve on the Fourth Circuit and only the third openly LGBTQ woman to serve on the federal appellate bench. She will also be just the third woman from Maryland to sit on the Fourth Circuit and join a small number of civil rights and labor lawyers who serve on the federal bench. Different lived experiences from underrepresented communities bring varied perspectives to the bench and are important to bolster judicial decision-making. We also know that when our courts reflect our country’s rich diversity and the diversity of the legal profession, public trust in the judiciary is increased. 

Nicole Berner is extremely qualified to serve on the federal appellate bench and her diverse legal expertise defending civil rights and lived experience as an LGBTQ woman will benefit all who come before the Fourth Circuit. We need and deserve fair and impartial judges committed to equal justice for all who will protect the rights of all of us. Berner’s dedication to protecting the civil rights of all people during her career indicates she will be that kind of judge. We urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Nicole Berner to the Fourth Circuit and fill this important vacancy.