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From Richard Hall to the federal courts: Two Miami alumnae share their stories

Miami alumnae Lindsay Jenkins (left) and Dana Douglas (right) were nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as federal judges.
Miami alumnae Lindsay Jenkins (left) and Dana Douglas (right) were nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as federal judges.

Since taking office in 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden has nominated more than 150 people to serve as federal judges.

These nominees come from a wide range of backgrounds, by far the most diverse picks from any president in terms of race, gender and sexuality. The appointees have received their educations across the country at Yale, American University, UCLA, Northwestern and more.

For two of Biden’s picks, their college journeys started at Miami University.

Meeting at an unlikely place

Lindsay Jenkins was born and raised in Cleveland. When it came time to pick a college in 1995, Miami was a natural fit. She planned to go into business, and the school’s reputation regularly attracted students from across the state pursuing business degrees.

Within her first year, she found her passion for law.

“The law came much more naturally to me,” Jenkins said. “It felt very comfortable.”

In 1997, Jenkins joined Delta Sigma Theta, a Black sorority on campus. Dana Douglas, then a senior, was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Black sorority. Both sororities had suites in Richard Hall, putting the future judges down the hall from one another, though neither sorority had a live-in requirement.

Douglas, originally from New Orleans, started at Miami in 1993 after a persistent high school counselor repeatedly suggested it.

“I knew I didn’t want to stay in the city for college,” Douglas said. “When you’re born in [New Orleans], you usually stay.”

At the time, Douglas already knew she wanted to go to law school after graduating. She said the skills she learned from Miami and former professor Augustus Jones were essential in teaching her how to be successful in law, particularly in switching her writing style from English papers to law school exams.

“I attribute a lot of the success that I had in law school to a thematic sequence I had at Miami … which was focused in law,” Douglas said.

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Lifelong relationships

According to the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, more than 90% of Miami students were white in 1998, the earliest data set available on the website.

Douglas said the small minority community was very close-knit at the time. The National Pan-Hellenic Council also helped to strengthen the ties between different minority sororities and fraternities, and Douglas said she’s still friends with most of the members of her sorority to this day.

“It certainly provided a very strong network of sisters for me,” Douglas said.

Though Jenkins was in a different sorority, she had a similar experience.

“I crossed into my sorority with 10 other women,” Jenkins said. “There were 11 of us, and we’re actually still tremendously close to this day.”

Though Douglas and Jenkins were in different years and sororities, their paths crossed at Miami. 

“Relationship-building is important, that’s another thing you can take advantage of while in college,” Douglas said “That might not always be on people’s radar as you’re actually going through college.”


While both Jenkins and Douglas started their journeys in college, their paths diverged from there. Both returned to their hometowns to pursue law degrees — Jenkins at Cleveland State University and Douglas at Loyola University New Orleans.

After graduating from law school, Douglas served as a member of the New Orleans Civil Service Commission from 2004 to 2013 and a partner with Liskow & Lewis, a law firm that specializes in the energy and oil industries. In 2010, she served as counsel for BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to assist with economic loss claims and identify valuations for damages.

In each case before her, Douglas said she tries to take in both sides from a neutral position regardless of the scope.

“We just take each case as it comes in and start off the process the same,” Douglas said.

Jenkins’ career after graduating from law school in 2002 has focused primarily on criminal law. She worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois in various positions from 2006 until 2021, including as chief of general crimes from 2016 until 2018, chief of violent crimes in 2018 and 2019 and chief of the entire criminal division until 2021. 

During her time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Jenkins had direct supervision of numerous high-profile cases including R. Kelly’s child pornography charges.

After that, she returned to private practice briefly with Cooley LLP. The shift gave her a transition period to move away from her time as a criminal prosecutor before her nomination.

“I knew that I wanted to get into that neutral arbiter role many, many years ago,” Jenkins said, “and so it was nice to be able to have a little bit of a balance to have not so much criminal focus but actually some civil focus as well.”


When Douglas’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was announced last June, Jenkins celebrated for her.

“I remember where I was standing when I read that Judge Douglas was being nominated,” Jenkins said, “and I think I let out a little scream.”

One month later, Biden nominated Jenkins to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Douglas said she immediately sent Jenkins a text offering her support and help for anything she needed throughout the confirmation process.

Douglas and Jenkins each received their nominations in the summer of 2022, but they wouldn’t be confirmed until December and February respectively. 

After her nomination, Douglas said she felt like she got 15 seconds to celebrate before spending the next six months of her life post-nomination preparing for her confirmation.

“A lot of this is like drinking from a fire hose at this time,” Douglas said. “Going through that process kind of helps you prepare.”

Douglas received 65 votes for her at the confirmation hearing, the second-most votes of support of any of Biden’s judicial nominees to the circuit courts. She credited her neutrality and willingness to listen to opposing arguments as a potential cause for her bipartisan support, though she said it’s impossible to predict what may happen going into votes like that.

Now that they’re each in their respective roles as judges, the work has just begun.

“Five minutes after [I was] sworn in, the chief judge handed me a list of 300 cases that were reassigned to me from my now-colleagues,” Jenkins said.

Douglas said she’s still trying to nail down a routine. She likes to take her time to observe and learn before making any decisions, but the fast-paced nature of the federal courts have made that approach impossible.

“There’s so many things coming in at the same time … Justice moves a little more swiftly than people would have you believe,” Douglas said.

Inspiring others to pursue law

In Feb. 2022, the Pew Research Center wrote that only 70 of the more than 3,800 judges that have sat on federal courts have been Black women. Jenkins and Douglas have each helped to raise that number since then, with Douglas being the first woman of color to ever sit on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It’s important to have different perspectives inform various issues … that come before the Court,” Douglas said. “I think it’s important to have a variety of voices around the table when having conversations about the way Constitutional liberties might work in certain conditions.”

While the Northern District of Illinois has seen more diverse judges in the past, Jenkins said representation is still important.

“I’m fortunate to be in a district where there have been a number of women and judges in general from a variety of backgrounds,” Jenkins said. “It’s fortunate to be able to gain from all those differing perspectives in the everyday work of the court.”

Douglas encouraged students to consider pursuing law degrees regardless of the undergraduate majors they choose. Her advice for future lawyers and judges is to pick an undergraduate degree you know you’ll do well in and spend as much time as possible honing your writing and critical thinking skills.

Jenkins added that even students who don’t intend to go into careers in law could benefit from pursuing law degrees.

“Law school is often about learning skills of analysis,” Jenkins said, “and a law degree does not mean that you have to practice law on the back end in a traditional sense.”

Beyond the hard and soft skills students learn at Miami and other colleges, Douglas and Jenkins both agreed that relationship-building is an integral part of the higher education experience regardless of the career students enter after graduation. If the pair hadn’t met during their time at Miami, they might not have had the same support in one another that they do today.