Danielle Spinelli


Vice-Chair, Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Practice

Spinelli, Danielle

Danielle Spinelli is an experienced litigator and appellate advocate whose practice focuses on representing clients in the US Supreme Court, in the federal and state appellate courts, and in trial-level matters involving complex legal questions. She has handled matters in a wide variety of substantive areas, including administrative law, bankruptcy, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, federal jurisdiction, Native American law, insurance law and international trade.

Ms. Spinelli has substantial experience and expertise in disputes and appeals raising complex bankruptcy problems in both the business and consumer arenas. For example, she successfully argued before the Supreme Court for the chapter 7 trustee in Clark v. Rameker (2014), presenting the question whether inherited IRAs are exempt in bankruptcy. Also in the Supreme Court, she played a major role in the successful representation of the Marshall estate in Stern v. Marshall (2011), a watershed decision on Article III and bankruptcy court authority. She currently represents a leading financial institution in appeals across the country involving unsettled questions of consumer bankruptcy law. She has represented  Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. in a series of appeals involving novel questions at the intersection of chapter 11 and insurance law, including prevailing before the en banc Third Circuit on the question of insurer standing and successfully arguing before the Third Circuit that the chapter 11 case of an entity with no assets other than insurance should be dismissed. She has also argued successfully before the Second and Third Circuits in appeals stemming from the Chrysler and eToys bankruptcies.

Ms. Spinelli also has substantial experience representing Native American tribes in complex litigation, appeals, and administrative proceedings involving land into trust, gaming, jurisdictional and sovereign immunity issues. She argued before the Supreme Court in United States v. Tohono O'odham Nation (2011), involving jurisdiction over tribal breach of trust claims. Separately, she has represented the Nation in a series of lawsuits and appeals involving land into trust and gaming issues, including successfully invalidating an Arizona state statute on preemption grounds and successfully obtaining summary judgment in a contract suit brought against the Nation. She also represents several other tribes in proceedings related to land into trust and gaming issues.  

In addition, Ms. Spinelli argued successfully in the Supreme Court in the right-to-counsel case of Rothgery v. Gillespie County (2008). She played a lead role in the successful representation of Freddie Lee Hall in Hall v. Florida (2014), regarding the constitutionality of Florida's scheme for determining whether capital defendants have an intellectual disability that would bar their execution. She also played a major role in the successful representation of Chris Simmons in Roper v. Simmons (2005), which held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders, and represented the American Psychological Association as amicus in the subsequent cases of Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012), which limited life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. She has also represented parties or amici in numerous other Supreme Court cases.

Ms. Spinelli was recently recognized as a Supreme Court and appellate practitioner by The Legal 500, which said that she "has superb legal acumen, is a very effective oral advocate, and provides an excellent written product" and is "a great lawyer in every sense."

Honors & Awards

  • Recognized as a leading lawyer in Native American law and an "Up and Coming" lawyer in appellate law in the 2016 edition of Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers in Business
  • Recognized in The Legal 500 United States (2013-2016) as a Supreme Court and appellate advocate who is “a great lawyer in every sense”
  • Selected for inclusion in the 2017 edition of the Best Lawyers in America for Native American Law
  • National Law Journal's Appellate Lawyer of the Week (November 2010)
  • Named a future star in DC litigation by Benchmark Litigation (2010 and 2011) for "play[ing] a major role as one of the [firm's] younger Supreme Court practitioners"
  • WilmerHale's 2006 John H. Pickering Award for outstanding pro bono service
  • National Law Journal's 2005 Pro Bono Award for work on Roper v. Simmons
  • 2005 Outstanding Legal Service Award from the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for work on Roper v. Simmons
  • Amicus brief in support of certiorari in Smith v. Texas was one of two briefs honored as instances of Exemplary Legal Writing for 2006 by Green Bag
  • Amicus brief in Marrama v. Citizens Bank received 2007 Pro Bono Award from National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys

Recent Highlights

Supreme Court

  • Successfully argued on behalf of the chapter 7 trustee in Clark v. Rameker (2014), which presents the question whether inherited IRAs are exempt in bankruptcy. 
  • Successfully argued before the Court on behalf of petitioner in Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas (2008), a case presenting an important question regarding the scope of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
  • Argued before the Court for respondent in United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation (2011), which presented a significant question of federal jurisdiction.
  • Played a major role in the successful representation of the estate of E. Pierce Marshall in Stern v. Marshall (2011), a landmark decision on the scope of Article III and the limits of bankruptcy courts' authority.
  • Successfully represented the chapter 7 trustee in Schwab v. Reilly (2010), which involved the process for objecting to claimed exemptions.
  • Represented amici in a number of recent Supreme Court bankruptcy cases, including Wellness International Network, Ltd. v. Sharif (pending); Executive Benefits, Inc. v. Arkison (2014); Law v. Siegel (2014); RadLAX Gateway Hotel v. Amalgamated Bank (2012); Marrama v. Citizens Bank (2007); and Marshall v. Marshall (2006).
  • Successfully represented the petitioner in Hall v. Florida (2014), which raised the question whether Florida's scheme for identifying capital defendants with intellectual disabilities is constitutional.
  • Primary author of the firm’s brief for respondent in Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which the Court held that the execution of offenders who committed their crimes as juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment.
  • Played a major role in the firm's representation of the sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2007), defending the constitutionality of BCRA's electioneering communication provisions.
  • Authored amicus briefs on behalf of the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association, cited in the Court’s decisions in Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012), which restricted life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.
  • Authored amicus briefs on behalf of legal historians in Warger v. Shauers (pending); the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Florida v. Jardines (2013) and Florida v. Harris (2013); the Congressional Tri-Caucus in Shelby County v. Holder (2013); DNA scientists in Maryland v. King (2013); the National Congress of American Indians in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter (2012); the Constitution Project in Smith v. Texas (2007); and law professors in Gonzales v. Oregon (2006).

Other Matters

  • Nationwide counsel to a leading financial institution in litigation and appeals relating to mortgages in consumer bankruptcy.
  • Plays a lead role in the firm’s representation of Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries in many asbestos-related bankruptcy proceedings and appeals, including:
    • Prevailing before the en banc Third Circuit on an important issue of insurer standing in bankruptcy in In re Global Industrial Technologies, Inc. (2011).  
    • Successfully arguing before the Third Circuit in In re American Capital Equipment (2012), regarding the validity of a Chapter 11 plan filed by a defunct entity with no meaningful assets other than insurance.
    • Playing a major role in developing overall strategy and briefing and arguing complex legal issues, often of first impression, in the Combustion Engineering, Western Asbestos, Mid-ValleyNorth American Refractory Co., Federal-Mogul and other bankruptcies and resulting appeals.  
  • Successfully argued before the Second Circuit in an appeal brought by former dealers arising out of the Chrysler bankruptcy.
  • Successfully argued before the Third Circuit on behalf of client AOL in a fraudulent-transfer dispute with the estate of bankrupt internet retailer eToys.
  • Represents the senior secured creditors of debtor Momentive Performance Materials, Inc., in their appeal of their treatment under the debtor’s chapter 11 plan.
  • Represents swap counterparties in disputes with the Lehman bankruptcy estate involving interpretation of the Bankruptcy Code’s provisions governing complex financial products.
Native American Law
  • Represents the Tohono O’odham Nation in complex litigation arising from the Department of the Interior’s obligation to take land into trust for the Nation, including obtaining a judgment that an Arizona statute seeking to prevent the trust acquisition was preempted by federal law, and obtaining summary judgment for the Nation in a suit brought by the State of Arizona for breach of the Nation’s tribal-state gaming compact.
  • Represents the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians in litigation presenting land-into-trust and gaming issues, including successfully obtaining the reversal of a preliminary injunction on appeal to the Sixth Circuit.
  • Played a major role in the firm's representation of the Government of Canada in its multibillion-dollar dispute with the United States over duties on imported softwood lumber, and in litigation raising related issues, including:
    • Successfully arguing before the Federal Circuit in Canadian Wheat Board v. United States (2011), which resolved a significant and recurring question regarding the interpretation of the NAFTA Implementation Act in favor of Canada.
    • Obtaining a victory in unusual proceedings before an Extraordinary Challenge Committee convened under NAFTA.
    • Defending against a novel constitutional challenge to the dispute-resolution provisions of NAFTA in the DC Circuit.
  • Played a lead role in the firm’s important victory in United States v. Stein (2008), in which the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal, on Fifth and Sixth Amendment grounds, of the indictments in the tax-fraud prosecution of thirteen former partners or employees of the accounting firm KPMG.
  • For five years, represented Virginia death-row client Darick Walker, arguing his case three times before the Fourth Circuit, including prevailing in the Fourth Circuit on the question whether Walker’s Brady claim was procedurally defaulted.

Professional Activities

  • Member, American Bar Association Standing Committee on Amicus Curiae Briefs
  • Chair, Bankruptcy Appeals Subcommittee, American Bar Association Business Bankruptcy Committee
  • Member, The Constitution Project Amicus Brief Committee



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JD, magna cum laude, Harvard Law School, 1999, Sears Prize; Executive Editor, Harvard Law Review

BA, magna cum laude, Mary Baldwin College

MA, Columbia University

Bar Admissions

District of Columbia


New York


The Hon. Stephen Breyer, US Supreme Court, 2000 - 2001

The Hon. Guido Calabresi, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 1999 - 2000

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