She is the woman presiding over the sex trafficking case of Ghislaine Maxwell – one of the most highly anticipated trials of the decade and one which threatens to shed a spotlight on some of the world’s most powerful figures.
But who is US District Judge Alison Nathan?
The 48-year-old Pennsylvania-born senior judge has decades of experience on high-profile cases and earned a reputation as a tough litigator.
She was appointed to Ms Maxwell’s case shortly after her arrest in July of last year.
Judge Nathan has repeatedly ruled against Ms Maxwell, denying her bail an unprecedented four times, despite the British socialite’s offer of $28.5 million (£23m) in bond. Her lawyers have claimed the 59-year-old is being scapegoated for the crimes of her former boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein, pointing to cases involving other high-profile figures granted bail on similar charges.
Judge Nathan has also ruled against the defence on nearly every objection they had to expert witnesses proposed by the prosecution.
Earlier this month, Judge Nathan was recommended to President Joe Biden for a prestigious federal appeals court post by prominent New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer.
Should she take up the position, as expected, Judge Nathan would be the second openly gay woman to serve on the Second Circuit, which is one level below the Supreme Court.
Judge Nathan assured the court last week that she would continue handling her many civil and criminal cases until her ascension, including presiding over the Maxwell trial until its completion.
Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law, said it was possible, however, that Ms Maxwell’s lawyers might seek to have the judge recuse herself because the Biden administration would be in a position to derail her promotion if she did not favour the government in the trial.
But he said in his view, based on hundreds of cases involving judicial recusal, a promotion like Judge Nathan’s would not provide a basis for such a request.
Judge Nathan, who grew up in northwest Philadelphia, attended the prestigious Cornell University, where she studied philosophy and Japanese. After graduating, Judge Nathan taught English in Japan and Thailand, as well as working for a short time at a newspaper.
She returned to the US to earn a Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Cornell Law School in 2000, at the same time editing The Law Review.
She has deep connections with the Democratic Party.
During the 2004 campaign season, she acted as former Secretary of State John Kerry’s Associate National Counsel for the Kerry-Edwards Democrat Campaign for President.
From 2006 until 2008, Judge Nathan served as a visiting associate professor of law at Fordham University School of Law.
She served in 2010 as a special assistant to President Barack Obama and also as Associate White House Counsel.
A year later, the former president nominated Judge Nathan to a seat on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Her nomination was met with hostility from various conservative groups. Heritage Action for America charged that she lacked experience, while Concerned Women for America’s Legislative Action Committee accused her of LGBT “political activism” which called into question “her impartiality and judicial temperament.”
She has spoken in interviews of having previously fought to get family leave for same-sex couples.
The Human Rights Campaign, meanwhile, hailed her confirmation. “We look forward to the day when the makeup of the entire federal bench truly represents the diverse American public,” a spokesman said in a statement.
Ms Nathan – who goes by the name Ali to her friends, is married to partner Margaret Satterthwaite, a New York University School law professor, and the couple are parents to twin Oliver and Nathan.
She revealed a lighter side in her dealings with prospective jurors – telling one that she was a keen fisherman, and another of her dislike for social media, which she believed was “bad for the health”. She conceded to being a fan, however, of dog and animal-related content.
Speaking of the difficulty to remain at a distance from the cases she judges, she once said: “It is the task of judges to find a way to maintain decorum and integrity, but not to be so far removed as to not be a part of the world which we are judging. We are people, after all. Judges are people.”
Judge Nathan is known for her independence, and in at least two cases she issued blistering criticism of the US attorney’s office.
She was so incensed by government conduct in the prosecution of an Iranian businessman last year that she has ordered every federal prosecutor in Manhattan to read her decision criticising the prosecution failures.
She claimed in the case against Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, who was charged and initially convicted for violating sanctions against Iran, that the prosecutors made “countless belated disclosures” of arguably exculpatory evidence and, when pressed for information, made a misrepresentation to the court.
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