Who is Tanya Chutkan, the judge presiding over Trump’s Jan. 6 indictment?

Chutkan, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, has served on the district court bench since 2014.

Former President Donald Trump faces his third criminal indictment, this time for his role in seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which resulted in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump’s case in Washington, D.C., will be presided over by a Black woman, District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. 

District Judge Tanya Chutkan is initially assigned to the election fraud case against former President Donald Trump. (Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts via AP)

The Jamaican-born American was randomly assigned to the case in which Trump has been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of obstructing vote certification proceedings, and one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights.

Chutkan, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, has served on the district court bench since 2014. It’s worth noting that Chutkan received overwhelming bipartisan support in her U.S. Senate confirmation with a 95-0 vote.

According to her biography on the court’s website, Chutkan graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and received her Juris doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. While at Penn Law, she served as an associate editor of the Law Review and was a legal writing fellow. 

After law school, Chutkan was a public defender for 11 years in the District of Columbia. As a trial attorney and supervisor, she tried over 30 cases, including “numerous serious felony matters,” according to the district court.

Chutkan has presided over several cases related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. If her rulings and statements are any indication of how she will preside over the Trump criminal case, the former president may be in for a bumpy trial.

As previously reported by CNN, in November 2021, Chutkan denied Trump’s attempt to block the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack from accessing more than 700 documents from the Trump White House.

In this image from Jan. 6, 2021, released in the final report by the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, President Donald Trump talks on the phone to Vice President Mike Pence from the Oval Office. (House Select Committee via AP)

Though Trump’s legal team argued that the House committee’s subpoena of White House records violated executive privilege and exceeded Congress’ constitutional power, Chutkan, in her ruling, declared that “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff (Trump) is not President.”

“Plaintiff does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent President’s judgment,” Chutkan wrote in her 39-page ruling. “His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power “exists in perpetuity.” 

Chutkan has also made stern statements in the criminal cases against alleged Jan. 6 rioters. During several sentencing hearings, she expressed grave concerns about the precedent the Jan. 6 attack sets for future acts of political violence. She also made clear that there should be adequate legal consequences for those who sought to subvert the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s fundamental institutions.

​​“Trying to stop the peaceful transition of power, assaulting law enforcement, is going to be met with certain punishment,” Chutkan said during a sentencing hearing in December 2021.

In at least one instance during criminal sentencing, Chutkan referred to Trump when addressing one rioter, who she said “did not go to the United States Capitol out of any love for our country” but rather “went for one man.”

Rioters wave flags on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Former President Donald Trump faces charges based on actions leading up to that day. (AP Photo by Jose Luis Magana, File)

Chutkan also rejected comparisons made by conservatives between the Jan. 6 insurrection and 2020 protests over racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

“To compare the actions of people around the country protesting, mostly peacefully, for civil rights, to a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government is a false equivalency,” she said.

She added, “[It] downplays the very real danger that the crowd on Jan. 6 posed to our democracy.”

At another sentencing hearing in January 2022, Chutkan made clear her position on the Jan. 6 attack that many argue was fueled by Trump.

“This was a violent attempted overthrow of the government … and it almost succeeded,” she said.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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