News & Politics

5 Things to Know About Tanya Chutkan, Trump’s DC Judge

The former DC public defender has been tough on January 6 defendants.

Photograph by United States District Court for the District of Columbia/Wikimedia Commons.

Former President Donald Trump was indicted in Washington’s federal court on Tuesday night. In the latest indictment, Trump stands accused of three conspiracy charges and one obstruction charge related to his efforts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election. This is Trump’s third indictment this year, following charges in New York and Florida.

Beyond the former president, yesterday’s indictment thrusts another person into the spotlight: Tanya S. Chutkan, the US District Judge randomly selected to preside over the high-profile case. Here are five things to know about Judge Chutkan.


She’s spent her career in Washington.

Originally from Jamaica, Chutkan received her undergraduate degree from George Washington University in 1983, and then left the District to attend the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. She returned to DC after graduation to start her legal career, working for two private law firms. Chutkan then spent 11 years in DC’s Public Defender Service, eventually becoming the lead attorney for sex offenses and domestic violence. After leaving the PDS in 2002, she went back into private practice, working at the DC office of Boies Schiller Flexner, where she made partner in 2007.

Beyond her legal work, Chutkan served on the board of directors of Dress for Success, a nonprofit dedicated to women’s economic independence and wrote two posts in 2009 for a short-lived Washington Post blog called “On Success.”


Obama appointed her to the federal bench.

In 2014, then-president Barack Obama appointed Chutkan to the US District Court for the District of Columbia. At her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke on Chutkan’s behalf. “Tanya Chutkan has won uniform praise from both her colleagues and opposing counsel and judges as well,” Norton told lawmakers. “I strongly recommend her based on her intellect and her character and her skills and diligence and temperament and her fairness.” Chutkan was confirmed by a vote of 95-0.


This isn’t her first time crossing paths with Trump.

Back in November of 2021, Chutkan squelched an effort by the former president’s lawyers to prevent the January 6 committee from accessing Trump administration records that were being held at the National Archives. “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” Chutkan said in her ruling.

She’s tough on January Sixers.

Chutkan has emerged as one of the court’s toughest judges when it comes to sentencing defendants in cases related to the Capitol insurrection. According to a Washington Post database tracking January 6th-related sentences, Chutkan has sentenced defendants to terms that met or exceeded the recommendations of prosecutors in 23 of the 31 cases she’s handled. By comparison, judges in the DC federal court have, on average, handed down sentences that fell below prosecutors’ recommendations in roughly 80 percent of all January 6 cases.

“It has to be made clear that trying to violently overthrow the government, trying to stop the peaceful transition of power and assaulting law enforcement officers in that effort, is going to be met with absolutely certain punishment,” Chutkan once said during sentencing.


Her past donations could be under scrutiny.

According to Newsweek, Chutkan made a total of $1,500 in donations to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2009. (As previously noted, Obama later appointed Chutkan to the US District Court.) Those financial contributions are likely to provide fodder for MAGA die-hards looking to delegitimize the latest indictment, says Thomas Gift, a professor at the University College London’s Centre on US Politics.

“Trump advocates will grasp onto any ammunition they can to suggest that the justice system is biased against the former president,” Gift told Newsweek. The donation, Gift added, “will feed into a broader narrative that this entire indictment is nothing more than a political exercise in taking down Trump, orchestrated top-to-bottom by Biden operatives.”

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.