Carnegie Mellon University

Xander Orenstein, Judge, Pennsylvania Magisterial District 05-3-10

Pursuing Compassionate Legal Logic

When facing a traffic ticket, landlord dispute or even a preliminary criminal hearing, your first stop through the legal system could be one of Pennsylvania’s people’s courts. If you happen to be in the City of Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and Polish Hill neighborhoods, Xander Orenstein (MCS 2014) would be behind the bench.

Possibly the first openly nonbinary person elected to a judicial seat in the United States, Xander assumed their role as a magisterial district judge in 2022.

They see the job as upholding the law with a common sense approach.

“There are times when pure logic, as applied to the legal system, is extraordinarily helpful, but it can also come up with a result that hurts absolutely everyone involved,” Xander says.

In one recent case that Xander talks about in general terms, the issue was a code violation and the common sentence was a hefty fine. But looking at the law, Xander saw an option for a community service sentence instead. The code violator became a community volunteer, helping a local nonprofit organization with much-needed repair work.

Xander was drawn to legal work because it combines their academic background in science and problem-solving with compassionate pathways that help people.

“We need people who apply logic with heart and understanding because this is a human system,” they say. “At any given point, we need to take a look at what’s going on and see if there’s a better solution, so our society continues moving in a direction that raises everybody up.”

Story by Elizabeth Speed