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President Joe Biden’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee claimed she never registered as a lobbyist, but records reveal she did.
That nominee, Roopali Desai, wrote in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that she never registered as a lobbyist. However, The Daily Wire discovered that Desai is registered as an inactive lobbyist within the Arizona secretary of state’s lobbyist database. Her presence in the record system dates back nearly a decade.
“[I] have not performed lobbying activities or registered as a lobbyist,” wrote Desai in her questionnaire.
It appears that this contradiction escaped the Senate’s notice, as Desai’s nomination was expedited to an executive business meeting Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance her nomination to the Senate floor; the only “no” votes came from senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). It’s a comparatively quick turnaround: Desai’s initial hearing occurred about two weeks ago on July 13, about a month after her nomination.
According to the latest Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on judicial nomination statistics, the amount of time circuit court nominees wait until confirmation averaged 139 days during Bill Clinton’s presidency, 216 days during George W. Bush’s presidency, 229 days during Barack Obama’s presidency, and 133 days during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The phone number listed on Desai’s lobbyist profile links to the Phoenix, Arizona-based Coppersmith, Schermer, & Brockelman law firm, now Coppersmith Brockelman, where Desai currently serves as a partner.
Lobbyist records for Coppersmith Brockelman show that the firm is registered as an inactive lobbyist as well. They lobbied for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AHHA) from January 2001 to January 2017, Promise Arizona (PAZ) in Action from February 2013 to January 2015, and Sun Health Services from February to September 2002.
Desai’s lobbyist listing under Coppersmith Brockelman shows that she began as a lobbyist-affiliated employee in February 2013, six days after she testified to an Arizona Senate committee on behalf of PAZ in Action. Back then, current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was a state senator, serving on the committee to which Desai testified. Desai has served as a longtime contract attorney for Hobbs, even serving on the secretary of state’s transition team.
In her testimony, Desai petitioned for the legislature to not remove inactive voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) system.
“I respectfully submit that the conversations that I’ve had with Promise Arizona in Action and other community groups are really talking about whether or not this proposed legislation is good for the voters. And, we believe that it’s not good for the public,” argued Desai. “I think there are ways to draft legislation to improve the issue of provisional ballots, and I think one of those ways is to arm the counties with resources and with information about tracking down people who have bad addresses.”
That same month, February 2013, PAZ in Action became one of the lobbyist clients for Desai’s firm. 2013 was also the year Desai made partner at the firm, having been an associate there since 2007.
The Daily Wire reached out to Coppersmith Brockelman for comment multiple times. They didn’t respond by press time.
Although Desai’s lobbying registration wasn’t addressed during the initial Senate hearing several weeks ago, Republicans did broach other issues. Several Republican senators expressed concern that the majority of Desai’s legal career and her community leadership advanced Democratic Party interests.
Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) pointed out that observation to Desai, but she rejected Tillis’ characterization.
“My work as a litigator for almost 20 years spans a much broader range of clients and matters than just the ones you’ve referenced,” said Desai.
Senator Mike Lee questioned the quality of an argument Desai proposed in one major separation of church and state case, noting that an authority she cited didn’t exist. Lee served as general counsel to former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and clerked with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito; his father, Rex Lee, was the Solicitor General under former President Ronald Reagan.
“It does cause me some concern because the source of authority is one you can’t identify, I believe because it doesn’t exist,” said Lee.
Desai’s most public cases of late emerged from deep ideological rifts exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and the 2020 election. In one of those cases, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (DNC), Desai filed a brief in support of the DNC that argued Arizona laws requiring precinct voting and banning ballot harvesting were violations of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In Arizona Democratic Party, et al. v. Fann, et al., Desai fought to shut down the Arizona Senate’s audit of the 2020 election, referring to it as a “so-called audit” in court proceedings.
It was cases like these, in the context of her past work, that caused Desai to be selected as one of USA Today’s 2022 Women of the Year.
Prior to 2020, Desai fought in widely-reported cases to reduce Arizona’s school choice program (Perea v. Reagan), hike Arizona’s income tax to increase teacher pay (Fann, et al. v. State of Arizona, et al.), require Christian business owners to make wedding invitations for same-sex couples (Brush & NIB Studio v. City of Phoenix), and stop a charter school from teaching religious principles like natural law (John Doe, et al. v. Heritage Academy Incorporated, et al.).
Desai has worked alongside Marc Elias, the go-to elections attorney for the Democratic Party linked to Russiagate: the claim by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that former President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
Brian Anderson of the Saguaro Group, a research firm in Arizona, and former aide to Governor Doug Ducey, observed similarities between Desai and Elias’ careers in a National Review opinion piece critical of Desai’s nomination.
“[W]hen Desai appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and painted herself as an attorney who has represented ‘both sides’ and who would, as a judge, ‘apply the rule of law objectively,’ Arizonans raised our eyebrows. This self-portrait is not one that we are familiar with,” wrote Anderson. “In reality, Desai has made a name for herself in Democratic circles as a partisan bulldog-for-hire akin to Marc Elias, and her clients now ‘have . . . the ear of the White House,’ according to one of her colleagues.”
Since Desai became a partner at Coppersmith Brockelman, her law firm has earned nearly $231,000 from Democratic candidates, according to campaign finance reports. The largest payment came in April: $10,000 from Arizona Democratic congressional candidate Jevin Hodge.
Over the years, the Democrats that paid Desai’s firm from their campaigns were: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Congressman Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ-01), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), congressional candidate Daniel Hernandez, former congressional candidate Michael Muscato, former congressional candidate Anita Malik, and former congressional candidate Mary Rose Wilcox.
At least two of Desai’s board appointments followed her legal work for an affiliated organization or issue. After defending a challenge to an Arizona ballot measure in 2018 that overturned school choice expansion, Proposition 305, Desai joined the board of the organization that launched the veto referendum campaign: Save Our Schools (SOS) Arizona. She remains on their board at present. After her work on Proposition 207, the ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in Arizona in 2020, Desai joined the National Cannabis Roundtable’s advisory board. She ended that board membership earlier this year.
Desai currently serves on the boards of Just Communities Arizona (JCA), an organization that advocates for abolishing prisons, and the Arizona Center for Law in Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm whose most recent court victory overturned a number of Arizona laws, including a ban on K-12 mask mandates.
In the past, Desai served on the board of the ACLU of Arizona.
During the initial Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, Desai repeated that she would take on a different approach as a judge than she had as an attorney.
“No matter what matter I have in front of me, and no matter what my personal or political views may be, they will not play a role in any case or decision that comes before me,” stated Desai.
When asked about hypothetical rulings on controversial issues like religious rights, Desai pledged that she would honor Supreme Court (SCOTUS) precedent.
“I would point to my respect for the rule of law. Our system of justice demands judges to apply the law objectively, fair-mindedly, and to honor the precedent of our courts,” said Desai.