Who Is Tanya Chutkin, The Federal Judge Who Will Preside Over Trump's Jan. 6 Trial?

The former president will face a woman of color from the bench with a no-nonsense reputation on Jan. 6 rulings.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was assigned to preside over former President Donald Trump’s election fraud case, has a reputation for being strict when it comes to ruling on cases involving the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The Washington Post reports that Trump, who was federally indicted Tuesday (Aug. 1) on charges related to trying to stay in power after losing the 2020 election, is slated to make his initial court appearance Thursday (July 3) before a magistrate judge in Washington, D.C.

After that, Chutkan, assigned randomly from among available judges, will take over the high-profile case that is receiving global attention.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump

Trump Indicted on Charges Related to 2020 Election Probe

Former President Barack Obama appointed Chutkan, a Kingston, Jamaica native, to the federal bench in 2014. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Chutkan worked in private practice for three years before joining the District of Columbia Public Defenders Service where she was a trial attorney and supervisor, according to her D.C. federal court biography.

Among her colleagues, Chutkan has delivered some of the harshest sentences for people convicted of crimes connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection in which five police officers serving at the Capitol died.

The Associated Press reports that she sentenced at least 38 convicted rioters who received prison terms, ranging from 10 days to over five years, often exceeding the sentencing request of federal prosecutors. Other judges typically handed down more lenient sentences.

If past rulings are an indication, Chutkan will likely treat the former president like any other accused defendant in her courtroom. In November 2021, she rejected Trump’s request to prevent the U.S. House’s Jan. 6 committee from reviewing his White House documents based on alleged executive privilege.

“Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” Chutkan wrote in a ruling against Trump, according to the AP.

Chutkan will likely receive racist attacks – either direct or veiled – from Trump supporters. But she has learned, over the years, how to deal with racism.

“For a lot of people, I seem to check a lot of boxes: immigrant, woman, Black, Asian. Your qualifications are always going to be subject to criticism and you have to develop a thick skin,” a post on the federal judiciary’s website quotes Chutkan.

She named Constance Baker Motley, a former federal judge and NAACP Legal Defense Fund litigator, as her inspiration. Motley was instrumental in the fight to end racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. She was the first Black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the first to serve as a federal judge.

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