Beryl A. Howell
|Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia|
|Assumed office |
March 16, 2016
|Preceded by||Richard W. Roberts|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia|
|Assumed office |
December 27, 2010
|Appointed by||Barack Obama|
|Preceded by||Paul L. Friedman|
|Born||December 3, 1956|
Fort Benning, Georgia
|Education||Bryn Mawr College (B.A.)|
Columbia Law School (J.D.)
Beryl Alaine Howell (born December 3, 1956) is the Chief United States district judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She was a federal judge supervising the grand jury for special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.
Howell is the daughter of an Army officer. She attended public school in six states and Germany before graduating from Bryn Mawr College with her Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors in Philosophy in 1978 and from Columbia University School of Law with a Juris Doctor in 1983. She is Jewish.
Following law school graduation, Howell clerked for Judge Dickinson Richards Debevoise in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey from 1983 to 1984. From 1985 to 1987, she was in private practice as an associate at the New York City law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel.
From 1987 to 1993, Howell was an Assistant United States Attorney for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, where she became Deputy Chief of the Narcotics Section. From 1993 to 2003, Howell served on the staff of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary as a senior advisor to chairman Patrick Leahy, including as the committee's general counsel starting in 1997.
While working for Senator Leahy, Howell helped craft the E-FOIA amendments, which expanded electronic access to government records. She also helped Sen. Leahy fend off proposals to impose new limits on the FOIA. In 2001, she was honored by the Coalition to Support and Expand the Freedom of Information Act, and in 2004, her FOIA work was honored by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Howell was involved in crafting numerous pieces of legislation for the investigation and prosecution of computer crime and copyright infringement, including the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), the No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act), the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999.
Howell was involved in national security issues, including the creation of the USA PATRIOT Act, which she defended in 2005 in an article for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly.
The Center for Democracy and Technology lists Howell as a "board alum".
Appointed by George W. Bush, Howell served as a member of the United States Sentencing Commission from 2004 until being seated on the District Court in 2010.
In 2008, Howell served as a member of the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, sponsored by bipartisan think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
She was nominated by President Barack Obama on July 14, 2010, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 22, 2010. She received her judicial commission on December 27, 2010. She became Chief Judge on March 17, 2016. A 2015 analysis by Ravel Law found Howell to be the second most-cited district court judge appointed in the previous five years.
In 2011, Harold Hodge Jr. stood outside the U.S. Supreme Court wearing a sign that protested the American government's treatment of black and Hispanic people. He did so in violation of a 1949 federal law that makes such protests a crime. Hodge sued the Marshal of the United States Supreme Court and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia under the First Amendment. In a June 2013 decision, Howell struck down the law as violating the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The judge wrote, "The absolute prohibition on expressive activity in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad and irreconcilable with the First Amendment." The defendants appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which reversed Howell's decision and reinstated the law as it applies to the Supreme Court Plaza and steps. Hodge v. Talkin, 799 F. 3d 1145 (D.C. Cir. 2015).
In 2018, Howell struck down a regulation of the Federal Election Commission allowing dark money groups, certain nonprofit organizations engaged in political activities, to conceal their donors. She wrote that the regulation "blatantly undercuts the congressional goal of fully disclosing the sources of money flowing into federal political campaigns, and thereby suppresses the benefits intended to accrue from disclosure." The Supreme Court later declined to review the decision.
In that same year, Howell became the supervising judge for the grand jury working for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. On October 25, 2019, she ruled in favor of the House Judiciary Committee, which had sought grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation, finding their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump to be a judicial proceeding. Justice Department attorneys had previously asserted that congressional investigators had "not yet exhausted [their] available discovery tools,” arguments Howell said "smack of farce," as the administration had openly stated it would stonewall the investigation.
From 2004 to 2009, Howell was executive vice president, executive managing director, and general counsel at Stroz Friedberg, a global digital risk management and investigations firm. Howell's work at Stroz Friedberg included lobbying on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America, and, briefly, Universal Music Group.
Howell teaches legal ethics as an adjunct professor at the American University's Washington College of Law.
Howell is married to Michael Rosenfeld, an executive producer at National Geographic Television & Film. They have three children.