University of Arizona Law Celebrates the Confirmation of Alumna Roopali Desai ('05) as 9th Circuit Judge
“I never thought it was possible for someone like myself to be in this position, but I want the next generation, and my daughters, to see that it is possible.”
On September 30, University of Arizona Law celebrated the nomination and confirmation of alumna Roopali Desai (JD ‘05, MPH ‘01, BA ‘00) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The event was attended by Desai, faculty, students, family, and friends.
Desai was confirmed by the United States Senate this past August in a 67–29 vote, the most votes that any circuit court nominee has received since President Biden took office and just 50 days after her initial nomination, the fastest of any Circuit Court nominee since the Clinton Administration. Desai is the first South Asian judge to sit on the country's largest federal appeals court.
The San Francisco-based circuit court hears appeals of district court rulings in nine states and two territories – Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, the U.S. territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“Her trajectory took her far from campus, but not too far,” said University of Arizona Law Dean Marc Miller to attendees. “I have watched her career from afar with admiration and I look forward to continuing to watch her career unfold.”
Woman of the Year
As a law student, Desai knew she wanted to work in the public sector helping vulnerable populations. She was drawn to litigation from the beginning, always enjoying public speaking, persuasion and thinking outside the box. While in law school, Desai was a legal intern for the office of the federal public defender in the district of Arizona.
Following law school, she clerked for then-Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the US court of appeals for the ninth circuit. In 2006 she worked as an associate at Lewis & Roca before joining the Phoenix law firm Coppersmith Brockelman, as a political and election attorney, where she continued to practice until her recent confirmation.
While at Coopersmith Brockelman, Desai worked on some of the highest-profile statewide cases of the last four years, including a suit to overturn laws banning COVID-19 risk mitigation policies; representing the Arizona Secretary of State in 11 successful election-related lawsuits in 2020; and serving as lead counsel for two citizen initiatives, Prop 207 (adult-use marijuana) and Prop 208 (Invest in Education), in the 2020 General Election. She was named the Arizona honoree among USA Today’s “Women of the Year” in March, after becoming prominent for her work fighting lawsuits over Biden’s election victory in Arizona.
Diversity of Perspective
At the University of Arizona Law celebration, Desai commented on the experiences of her youth as a child of immigrants in a working class, predominantly white suburb of Phoenix, AZ. While she may have looked out of place, she never felt out of place and as she grew, she came to further appreciate the value of her diverse outlook.
“Diversity in perspective was my ability to see things from a different angle and people different from me. Having a unique perspective is important for the people we serve,” said Desai. “I never thought it was possible for someone like myself to be in this position, but I want the next generation, and my daughters, to see that it is possible.”
Former professor of Desai and Dean Emerita Toni Massaro noted that “Arizona Law has produced an exceptional lawyer who will be an exceptional judge. Ms. Desai is smart, ethical, able to see multiple sides of complex issues, and is experienced in a broad range of issues confronting the federal courts. She also has experience with the inner workings of the Ninth Circuit, having served as a clerk to Chief Judge Mary Schroeder. Above all, she has good judgment. I was particularly impressed by Ms. Desai’s recent exceptional work defending the integrity of Arizona elections in the wake of attacks after the 2020 election. She not only listens to both sides (or more) of issues; she has represented both sides of legal disputes. Rather than being known as a “plaintiffs’ or defendants’-only” lawyer, she has significant experience on both sides of litigation. Such experience can only deepen her ability as a judge to hear arguments fairly and fully before reaching judgment. Finally, Ms. Desai consistently gives back to the community through her teaching, public speaking, and other public services. As one of her former professors, I could not be more pleased or proud.”
Desai is a triple Wildcat, with her Bachelor’s, Master’s and JD all from the University of Arizona. Surrounded by a family of Wildcats, her sister and fellow law school alum, Shefali Milczarek-Desai (‘01) is an associate clinical professor of law and the director of the Workers’ Rights Clinic at University of Arizona Law, while Desai’s brother-in-law, Gavin Milczarek-Desai (‘00) is the executive director of the Intellectual Property Clinic at University of Arizona Law.