Tanya Chutkan is a Jamaican-born American lawyer and judge who has made headlines for her rulings on some of the most controversial cases in the US. She is the judge overseeing the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump, who is accused of trying to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election and inciting the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Chutkan, 61, was appointed to the US District Court for the District of Columbia by President Barack Obama in 2014. She has a reputation for being tough, independent, and fair. She has also been outspoken in her criticism of Trump’s actions and policies, especially on immigration and national security issues.
In 2017, she blocked Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries, calling it “discriminatory and overbroad”. She also ordered the government to allow a pregnant undocumented teenager in federal custody to have an abortion, despite the administration’s objections. In 2019, she ruled that former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify before Congress as part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, saying that “presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president”.
Chutkan has also been harsh on those who participated in the Capitol riot, handing down longer prison sentences than those recommended by prosecutors. She has sentenced every one of the 31 defendants who have come before her to at least some jail time, according to a Washington Post tally. She has said that the rioters were not patriots, but rather “standing up for one man – who knows full well that he lost – instead of the Constitution he was trying to subvert”.
Chutkan’s background and experience may have shaped her views on justice and democracy. She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1962, to a multicultural family. Her father is an Indo-Jamaican doctor, and her mother is an Afro-Jamaican dancer and the granddaughter of Frank Hill, one of the founding fathers of Jamaica’s People’s National Party. She is also a cousin of former Liverpool and England soccer star John Barnes.
She moved to the US to attend George Washington University, where she earned a degree in economics. She then went to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was an associate editor of the law review and a legal writing fellow. She began her career as a private practice lawyer at Hogan & Hartson LLP (now Hogan Lovells), before becoming a public defender in Washington DC for 11 years. She later joined Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP as a partner, specializing in complex civil litigation and antitrust class action cases.
Chutkan has been praised by her colleagues and peers for her integrity, professionalism, and compassion. She has also been recognized for her mentorship and advocacy for women and minorities in the legal profession. She is married to Peter Krauthamer, a judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They have two children.
As Chutkan prepares to preside over one of the most historic and consequential trials in US history, she faces immense pressure and scrutiny from both sides of the political spectrum. She has said that she has not slept since being assigned to Trump’s case, and joked that she wanted to keep her calendar open “in case I can get out of town, which is increasingly looking like a good idea”. However, she has also shown courage and confidence in her role as a judge, saying “I’ll try” when an attorney wished her to be safe.