President Biden nominated Natasha Merle to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on January 19, 2022, to the seat vacated by Judge Roslynn Mauskopf. A civil rights champion, Ms. Merle has dedicated most of her legal career to public interest law and public defense. Judges with such civil rights backgrounds remain severely underrepresented on our courts, making Merle a significant and historic nominee. She was confirmed on June 21, 2023.
Natasha Merle graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005, earning a B.A. in Government and Spanish. In 2008, she graduated from New York University School of Law, cum laude. She was inspired to pursue a career in criminal defense law while participating in New York University Law School’s Juvenile Defender Clinic and Criminal and Community Defense Clinic.
After law school, Ms. Merle clerked for Hon. Robert L. Carter on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She then served as staff attorney at the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, a Houston-based charity that provides defense to indigent clients facing the death penalty. In 2011, she became an Assistant Federal Public Defender at the Office of the Federal Public Defender in the District of Arizona, where she primarily represented individuals in federal habeas proceedings. She accepted another clerkship in 2013 with Hon. John Gleeson on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. In 2013, she joined Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP as a litigation associate and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Fellow. In that role, she worked on complex commercial and civil rights cases. She then moved full-time to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. in 2016, where she served as Assistant Counsel and then Senior Counsel before being named Deputy Director of Litigation in 2021.
While at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) Ms. Merle participated in Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Alabama, in which LDF filed a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s restrictive photo ID voting law. Her team argued that the law was created to intentionally discriminate against Black and Latinx voters, that it had a racially discriminatory effect, and that it violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Ultimately, the 11th Circuit upheld a district court’s dismissal of the case. In 2020, she also served as co-counsel in NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. v. Barr, in which the NAACP challenged the creation of the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice by Attorney General William Barr. The NAACP argued that the membership of the commission was not fairly balanced and that certain materials produced by the commission must be made public. The court ruled in the NAACP’s favor, leading to the release of thousands of documents previously not available to the public.
Ms. Merle also served as co-counsel in Buck v. Davis, a notable death penalty case in which the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the death sentence of a Black defendant because, during his initial trial, a witness called by the defense claimed there was an increased probability he would commit future crimes simply because he was Black.
From 2016 to 2018, Ms. Merle was part of the LDF legal team that implemented a court monitoring program for the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk and trespass-enforcement policies and practices. In that role, she worked with other officials and her team to ensure that the NYPD’s policies did not violate the law and the rights of defendants. Outside of her advocacy work as an attorney, Ms. Merle has also taught courses on racial justice and equity at New York University School of Law and at Columbia Law School. In 2016, she led LDF’s Prepared to Vote campaign, a non-partisan initiative that informed voters about how to comply with election laws and how to spot discrimination at the polls.