Notice & Comment

ABA AdLaw Section Member Spotlight Series: Ninth Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson, by Linda D. Jellum

We thought you might like to learn more about members in the ABA Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice Section, so we are restarting our Section Member Spotlight Series. Prior posts in this series can be found here, on the Section’s legacy Notice and Comment blog that merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation‘s blog in 2015

We begin the series with Judge Ryan Nelson, Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Ryan is currently the judicial liaison to the section. We asked Judge Nelson to provide some background information, then choose from a variety of questions from which we could learn a little more about him. I think you will find his answers interesting and fun to read.

Q. What is your current position, where is it located, and how does it relate to administrative law?

I am a relatively new Judge sitting on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  My chambers are located in Idaho Falls, Idaho, but I sit on panels throughout the nine western states that comprise the Ninth Circuit.  The Ninth Circuit’s docket is administrative law intensive, including immigration cases, social security cases, environmental cases, and a host of other cases involving administrative law questions.

Q: What is your current or past position within the ABA Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice Section?

I was a Council Member for the Section for four years, and also served as a Co-Chair for the General Counsel Committee several years ago.

Q: How has membership in the ABA Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice Section furthered your career?

I have had a consistent focus on administrative law issues throughout my career.  Administrative Law was one of my favorite classes in law school.  My clerkship with Judge Henderson on the DC Circuit reinforced my interest in administrative law issues.  I handled a number of administrative law appellate cases as an associate at Sidley Austin.  And then I served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division and probably the largest legal issue we addressed was actually administrative law issues related to environmental law.  Then I served as Deputy General Counsel for the Office of Management and Budget at the White House with responsibility for helping review and clear major rulemakings from dozens of federal agencies.  Even as General Counsel for an international consumer goods company in Idaho, I oversaw administrative law issues ranging from the Department of Labor, EPA, FDA and FTC issues.  I also got involved in international regulatory issues through the company’s business in Europe and Asia, which gave me a comparative perspective on administrative law.

Through all of these positions, the Section provided support for my learning and growth.  From allowing me to stay abreast of new legal developments, to providing a network of contacts to coordinate with and discuss ideas with knowledgeable people, I was able to leverage my involvement in the Section to further my career goals.  Now as a Circuit Judge, I find that because of my background in administrative law, I am better able to spot the importance of underlying administrative law questions.  Thinking deeply about the underlying administrative law principles that govern a particular case, which will set precedent for future cases, helps keep my eye on the importance of every case.  Some cases are readily apparent as precedent setting.  And others end up setting important legal precedent after you research the case more.  So it is important to be able to see all sides of each issue.  And the Section has helped me do that.

Q: What was your first legal job or first job?

My first legal job other than a law firm summer associate was serving as a law clerk to the United States Senate Legal Counsel.  It was during the impeachment trial of President Clinton and was my first job in Washington, DC.  It taught me about the interaction of law and politics, and the importance of separation of powers.  And it set the stage for a valuable ten years of my initial legal career in Washington, DC, working as a law clerk on the DC Circuit, at a law firm, for the Department of Justice and the White House and then again for the United States Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation of Justice Sotomayor.

Q: What was the best advice you got along the way to where you are now?

When I was a law clerk on the DC Circuit, Justice Scalia spoke to all the clerks and told us that he knew we were all mostly interested in staying in DC and making a lot of money working for big law firms.  But he noted that what the country really needed was attorneys with our experiences and backgrounds to go back home and serve their local communities.  He commented on how impressed he was when attorneys from throughout the country would argue in the Supreme Court and had the ability to bring that outside reference to the Court’s thinking.  Those words stuck with me.  And while it took another ten years for me to make the move, I eventually returned to my hometown in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  As tough as that decision was at the time, Justice Scalia’s advice helped.  And it turned out to be exactly the right choice for me.

Q: What do you do when you are not doing administrative law?

I have always enjoyed distance running since high school and ran a marathon in law school.  For the last several years, I turned that passion into a base for triathlon training and have learned to enjoy biking and swimming as well.  I was a horrible swimmer initially and could barely complete a lap.  But I have now competed in nearly 30 triathlons, including three half-Ironmans.  Looking back, there is no way I would have thought when I started that I would later be able to swim 1.2 miles at all, let alone bike 56 miles and then run 13.1 miles in a single race.  But it has turned out to be a great outlet.  And now my clerks get involved, and we compete annually as the Article Tri team in the Spudman Triathlon in Burley, Idaho.

*** Want to join the section? Visit and choose “Join the Section.”  Or contact the ABA customer service department at 1-800-285-2221 to join. Questions? Email

Linda D. Jellum is Chair of the ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice and the Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development and the Ellison Capers Palmer Sr. Professor of Tax Law at the Mercer University School of Law.

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