A look at Aileen Cannon, the Duke alumna presiding over the Trump criminal case

<p>Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.</p>

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One Blue Devil is taking center stage in a case involving the first former president in U.S. history to face federal charges.

In June, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, Trinity ‘03, was randomly assigned to preside over United States v. Trump, a pending federal criminal case that deals with former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents after his presidency.

"This will be the most consequential and most watched prosecution in American history," Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, told NBC News. "Will enough of the public accept the verdict, whatever it is? Or will they see any result as political? Answers to those questions are as important as the verdict."

Cannon, 42, plays an instrumental role in how the case will play out in the coming months and has already made a few key decisions. On June 26, she denied a request by the Department of Justice to keep the identities of 84 potential witnesses under seal. She agreed Tuesday to postpone the first pretrial conference scheduled in the case’s proceedings.

Cannon’s participation in the case has since sparked controversy. She was nominated to the lifetime position on the bench by then-President Trump and was confirmed shortly after he lost re-election. She is a registered Republican and a member of the conservative Federalist Society. 

She was also previously involved in a related case, Trump v. United States, in which she ruled favorably toward the former president and ultimately dismissed the case. The case, which began August 2022, dealt with a lawsuit filed by Trump in response to the DOJ’s seizure of documents from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. 

Over the course of the trial, Cannon ordered the DOJ to release a previously sealed list of seized items, temporarily halted the review of materials by the DOJ and appointed a special master to review the seized materials. After an appeal, portions of her rulings were overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which later instructed her to dismiss the case entirely.

Her selection has also come under scrutiny, as some considered her to have inadequate experience with criminal trials. 

Who is Aileen Cannon?

Cannon was born in 1981 in Cali, Colombia to a mother who fled Cuba during its Revolution and a father from Indiana. The second of two children, she grew up in Miami before matriculating to Duke, where she hoped to prepare for a future legal career. While at Duke, Cannon was a member of the Tri Delta sorority, spent a semester at the University of Seville in Spain and wrote for El Nuevo Herald, Miami’s Spanish language newspaper.

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Duke in 2003, Cannon spent two years working as a paralegal with the Criminal Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and then attended the University of Michigan Law School. During law school, she was the articles and associate editor of her school’s Journal of Law Reform, a quarterfinalist in her school’s moot court competition, an inductee into the Order of the Coif honor society and a member of the Federalist Society. Post graduation, Cannon clerked for Judge Steven Colloton in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit from 2008 to 2009 before joining Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP as an associate.

In 2013, Cannon left Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to become an assistant U.S. attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. From 2013 to 2015, she worked in the major crimes division, where she prosecuted various crimes. She then transitioned into the appellate division, primarily dealing with appeals until 2020.

In 2019, Cannon was contacted by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s office about the position of U.S. District Judge. On May 21, 2020, Cannon was nominated by then-President Trump to a vacancy in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida. She was then vetted by the Senate, passing the United States Judiciary Committee with a 16-6 vote and being confirmed with a 56-21 vote in the Senate on November 12, 2020.

During her first two years on the bench, Cannon was involved in several notable cases. These included the first case to compensate a family for business property confiscated by Cuba under the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and the sentencing of Paul Vernon Hoeffer to 18 months in prison for death threats against Illinois prosecutor Kim Foxx and U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is also presiding in United States v. Carver, an ongoing and highly complex healthcare fraud case with multiple defendants.

Zev van Zanten | Campus Arts Editor

Zev van Zanten is a Trinity sophomore and campus arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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