Labor Attorney With Pence Ties Pushed for Key Judicial Vacancy

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By Ben Penn

A former employment attorney and Mike Pence adviser is the subject of conversation to fill a critical federal appellate court vacancy that could shape the future of labor law.

The National Right to Work Committee recently lobbied on the potential nomination of Asheesh Agarwal, general counsel for the Indiana Department of Revenue, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, according to the committee’s lobbying report. The Chicago-based Seventh Circuit in recent years has heard cases determining the legality of state right-to-work laws and whether public-sector unions can compel nonmembers to pay collective bargaining fees.

Agarwal represented management in labor and employment cases as of counsel at Ogletree Deakins from 2009 to 2012. He was also a legal policy adviser on Vice President Pence’s 2012 gubernatorial campaign. Before that, Agarwal was a senior official in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush.

‘Brilliant Guy’

The National Right to Work Committee has long advocated for laws that ban labor unions from requiring nonmembers to pay representation fees. The committee spent $60,000 lobbying in the first three months of 2017, the report showed, but that also included efforts to get labor policy riders attached to an upcoming appropriations bill.

The NRTW declined to comment on the lobbying disclosure and why the group was interested in Agarwal’s potential nomination.

“It could be just as simple as, ‘we think he’s a terrific candidate,’ with no political influencing or factoring being contemplated,” Chuck Baldwin, the managing director of Ogletree Deakins, told Bloomberg BNA. “I’ve worked hands on with Asheesh and I can tell you he’s a brilliant guy.”

Baldwin, who hired Agarwal at the firm’s Indianapolis office, said he’s recently heard his former colleague’s name rumored for a judgeship.

It’s not clear when President Donald Trump intends to nominate someone to fill one of the circuit’s two vacancies. “We do not have any announcements to make at this time,” Kelly Love, a White House spokeswoman, told Bloomberg BNA via email April 18.

Agarwal declined to comment for this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at; Terence Hyland at; Christopher Opfer at

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