- She was born in Kingston, Jamaica to Indo-Jamaican father and Afro-Jamaican mother.
Despite her qualifications and experience, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has faced virulent criticism because of the color of her skin. “For a lot of people, I seem to check a lot of boxes: immigrant, woman, Black, Asian. Your qualifications are always going to be subject to criticism and you have to develop a thick skin,” she wrote in an article published on the United States Courts website in February in recognition of African American History Month. She was nominated in December 2013 by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was confirmed by the Senate in a 95-0 vote.
Chutkan was born and raised in Jamaica to an Indo-Jamaican father and an Afro-Jamaican mother. Indo-Jamaicans are the descendants of people who came from the Indian subcontinent to Jamaica. Her father, Dr. Winston Barrington Chutkan is an orthopedic surgeon; her mother Noelle was one of the leading dancers at the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. Her younger brother, Norman, and younger sister, Robynne, are physicians.
The 61-year-old Obama administration appointee has been in the spotlight since her appointment as the judge set to oversee former President Trump’s trial involving his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election. She’s is a tough judge who wouldn’t stand for Trumpian antics. In 2021, Judge Chutkan rejected Trump’s efforts to prevent his White House records from being given to the Congressional committee for investigation in the Capitol Hill attack. She has overseen the trials of more than 30 defendants in cases related to the January 6 Capitol attack.
According to The Washington Post, she has been the toughest sentencing judge in those cases, ordering at least some jail or prison time. She has set tougher sentences than requested by the Justice Department in a number of cases involving Jan. 6 defendants, citing the necessity of consequences for taking part in the insurrection, according to an Axios report. “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home,” she said at one of their hearings.
Chutkan grew up comfortably in Kingston, Jamaica, with a passion for dance. She attended St. Andrew High School for Girls, and was also trained as a classical dancer in Jamaica. At that age, she never thought of becoming a lawyer, and certainly not a judge. But after leaving home to attend college at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., she decided to try law school. “I worked hard to get to where I am and took advantage of the opportunities presented to me,” Chutkan said. “But I understand the privilege and good fortune I’ve had. Many people don’t have the same opportunities.” She has citizenship of both Jamaica and America.
She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983 from George Washington University. She later attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was an associate editor of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. She graduated in 1987 with a Juris Doctor.
She worked as a public defender in DC for a decade before joining private law where she specialized in litigation and white-collar criminal defense. She worked at the law firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), and then at the law firm of Donovan, Leisure, Rogovin, Huge & Schiller.After that she was a trial attorney and supervisor at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. In 2002, Chutkan joined the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, becoming a partner in 2007. Her practice focused on complex civil litigation and specifically antitrust class action cases.
She is married to Peter Krauthammer, a former Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He had announced his retirement on June 30. He served as an assistant professor and clinical supervising attorney at the Howard University School of Law. Tanya and Peter have two children.