Danielle Spinelli


Danielle Spinelli


  • Vice Chair, Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Practice

Danielle Spinelli is vice chair of the firm's Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Practice. She has handled matters in a wide variety of substantive areas, including administrative law, antitrust, bankruptcy, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, federal jurisdiction, insurance law, international trade, and Native American law.

Ms. Spinelli has argued five cases and briefed many others before the US Supreme Court, and has argued many cases before federal courts of appeals and dispositive motions in federal district court. She is nationally ranked by Chambers USA in both appellate law and Native American law, and is described by The Legal 500 as “a great lawyer in every sense: she has superb legal acumen, is a very effective oral advocate, and provides an excellent written product.” 

Ms. Spinelli has substantial experience in disputes and appeals raising complex bankruptcy problems in both the business and consumer arenas. She successfully argued on behalf of priority creditors before the Supreme Court in Czyzewski v. Jevic Transportation Co. (2017), which presents the question whether a structured dismissal may distribute estate assets in violation of the Bankruptcy Code's priority scheme, and is widely regarded as one of the most significant bankruptcy cases to come before the Court in recent years. She also 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 represented a major insurer 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. 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 a planned gaming facility, including successfully invalidating an Arizona state statute on preemption grounds, successfully obtaining summary judgment in a contract suit brought against the Nation, and preserving both victories on appeal. In May 2017, she obtained a settlement for the Nation that enables it to operate the disputed facility. She also represents many other tribes in proceedings related to land-into-trust and gaming issues; for instance, she recently helped obtain summary judgment for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in a challenge to a determination taking land into trust for gaming purposes, and has assisted in obtaining Secretarial procedures to govern Class III gaming for North Fork and for the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria.

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.

Professional Activities

  • Member, Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules
  • Chair, 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


  • Supreme Court

    • Successfully argued on behalf of creditors in Czyzewski v. Jevic Transportation Co. (2017), which presents the question whether a structured dismissal of a chapter 11 case may distribute estate assets in violation of the priority scheme in the Bankruptcy Code.
    • Successfully argued on behalf of secured creditor in Bank of America v. Caulkett (2015), regarding stripping junior liens in chapter 7 cases.
    • 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 (2015); 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.
    • Successfully represented the 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 the American Bar Association in Moore v. Texas (2017); historians in Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (2016); legal historians in Warger v. Shauers (2014); 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).
  • Bankruptcy

    • Successfully represented senior secured noteholders in the Energy Future Holdings bankruptcy, obtaining a reversal in the Third Circuit of the bankruptcy court's ruling that the noteholders were not entitled to a make-whole payment.
    • Represents the senior secured creditors of debtor Momentive Performance Materials, Inc., in their Second Circuit appeal of their treatment under the debtor's chapter 11 plan.
    • Represents a secured creditor of the Houston Regional Sports Network in its Fifth Circuit appeal of the debtor's chapter 11 plan.
    • Played 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:
      • successfully argued before the Second Circuit in an appeal brought by former dealers arising out of the Chrysler bankruptcy;
      • 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; and
      • playing a major role in developing overall strategy and briefing and arguing complex legal issues, often of first impression, in the Combustion Engineering, Western AsbestosMid-ValleyNorth American Refractory Co., Federal-Mogul and other bankruptcies and resulting appeals.  
    • Successfully argued before the Third Circuit on behalf of client AOL in a fraudulent-transfer dispute with the estate of bankrupt internet retailer eToys.
    • Represented swap counterparties in disputes with the Lehman bankruptcy estate involving interpretation of the Bankruptcy Code's provisions governing complex financial products.
  • Native American Law

    • Represented the Tohono O'odham Nation in complex land-into-trust and gaming litigation, ultimately obtained a very favorable settlement permitting the Nation to proceed with the project at issue. Representation included:
      • successfully defending in the trial court and on appeal the Secretary of the Interior's decision to take land into trust for the Nation;
      • obtaining a judgment that an Arizona statute seeking to prevent the trust acquisition was preempted by federal law, and successfully defending that judgment on appeal; 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, and successfully defending that judgment on appeal. 
    • Represents the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians in litigation presenting land-into-trust and gaming issues, including obtaining the reversal of a preliminary injunction against the tribe on appeal to the Sixth Circuit, and obtaining the dismissal of a subsequent suit against tribal officers.
    • Represents the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in complex land-into-trust and gaming litigation, including obtaining summary judgment upholding Interior's decision to take land into trust for gaming, and obtaining a favorable judgment in a case against the State of California, resulting in the issuance of Secretarial procedures to govern Class III gaming.
    • Obtained a favorable judgment against California for the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria, resulting in the issuance of Secretarial procedures.
    • Represented the National Congress of American Indians as amicus in multiple cases involving the application of the National Labor Relations Act to tribes.
  • Other Matters

    • On appeal to the Third Circuit, obtained the reversal of a substantial jury verdict in a complex antitrust dispute for a major telecommunications company.
    • 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; and
      • obtaining a victory in unusual proceedings before an Extraordinary Challenge Committee convened under NAFTA.
    • 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.


  • Recognized as a leading lawyer in Native American law and appellate law in the 2017–2019 editions of Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers in Business
  • Recognized in The Legal 500 United States (2013-2019) as a Supreme Court and appellate advocate who is “a great lawyer in every sense”
  • Selected for inclusion in the 2017–2020 editions 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
  • 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

Insights & News


  • Education

    • JD, Harvard Law School, 1999

      magna cum laude Sears Prize; Executive Editor, Harvard Law Review
    • BA, Mary Baldwin College

      magna cum laude
    • MA, Columbia University

  • Admissions

    • District of Columbia

    • Massachusetts

    • New York

  • Clerkships

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

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