Biden’s list of 11 nominees is headlined by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would replace Attorney General Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The D.C. Circuit is considered the second-highest court in the land and a feeder bench to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Previous D.C. Circuit judges who were elevated to the Supreme Court include Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as late Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.
D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden’s nominee to replace Attorney General Garland on the D.C. Circuit Court.
Jackson, by nature of this appointment, would likely shoot to the top of any Democratic president’s shortlist for a Supreme Court nomination if she is confirmed. Biden pledged during the campaign to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Jackson, a Harvard Law grad, is currently a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden said Tuesday. “Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.”
Biden also announced Tiffany Cunningham, a partner at Chicago-based Perkins Coie LLP, as a nominee to the Federal Circuit. She previously clerked on the Federal Circuit after graduating Harvard Law.
Washington, D.C.-based partner at Zuckerman Spaeder, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, is Biden’s final circuit court appointment in this round. She is a public defender in the Northern District of Illinois, meaning she is employed by the government to defend individuals who were unable to pay for their own lawyers.
Jackson-Akiwumi is a former clerk from the Northern District of Illinois and the Fourth Circuit. She went to Princeton for undergrad and Yale for her law degree.
The names will go to the Senate where they will be directed to the evenly-split Senate Judiciary Committee for hearings and votes. The committee has even representation from each party due to an agreement reached by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after the 2020 elections resulted in a 50-50 Senate.
President Joe Biden, center, walks from Marine One to board Air Force One, with son Hunter Biden, left, as he carries his son Beau, Friday, March 26, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
But the nominees can still make it to the floor if they get only party-line votes in committee. If Republicans uniformly oppose any of the nominees in floor votes, Vice President Harris will be forced to break the tie.
“These highly qualified and diverse nominees are clearly worthy to be considered for these important appointments,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement. “I am particularly heartened by the nomination of Candace Jackson-Akiwumi to an Illinois seat on the Seventh Circuit. As a former federal public defender, Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi brings with her an important perspective that is a valuable asset to the Judiciary.”
Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., meanwhile urged a balanced approach on Biden’s nominees.
“The Judiciary Committee must evaluate each nominee on his or her merits and qualifications. The committee should give them a hard look to see if they have the experience, the temperament, and the commitment to the Constitution necessary to be a federal judge,” he said.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) walks to a Republican caucus luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on October 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Grassley on Tuesday left the door open to he and other Republicans supporting some of President Biden’s judicial nominees. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
Grassley added: “We should neither be a rubber stamp, nor should we oppose nominees as a matter of course, as many Democrats did during the Trump administration. As chairman of the committee I pushed the Trump administration to engage in thorough and thoughtful consultation with senators of both parties during the nomination process. Going forward, Chairman Durbin and the Biden administration ought to continue that longstanding practice.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile said “[w]e will have hearings and confirm judges to fill the growing number of vacancies on the federal bench and significantly mitigate the influence of Donald Trump’s unqualified, right-wing judges.”
Biden assumed office after a prolific four years of judicial nominations from former President Donald Trump, which were shepherded through the Senate by McConnell, who put a priority on the lifetime appointments. Trump and McConnell teamed up to confirm 54 judges to the circuit courts with 234 total federal judges. Trump also successfully nominated three Supreme Court justices, more than any president since Ronald Reagan.
It remains to be seen if Schumer and Biden will put the same premium on judicial appointments, especially with Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda and the tight margin in the Senate.
Biden’s other nominees announced Tuesday are Judge Deborah Boardman for the District of Maryland; Judge Lydia Griggsby for the District of Maryland; Julien Neals for the District of New Jersey; Florence Y. Pan for the D.C. District Court; Judge Zahid N. Quraishi for the District of New Jersey; Regina Rodriguez for the District of Colorado; Margaret Strickland for the District of New Mexico; and Judge Rupa Ranga Puttagunta for the D.C. Superior Court.
Biden’s list is diverse, which checks a box for progressives who have been pushing the president to diversify the federal courts. And the most high-profile appointment in the group ‒ Jackson ‒ was on progressive judicial group Demand Justice’s 2019 list of suggested Supreme Court appointments for Democratic presidential candidates.
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a former public defender, an unflinching champion for justice, and Joe Biden’s nominee to the second highest court in the United States,” Demand Justice said in a tweet Tuesday morning. The post also included an ad with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., praising Jackson’s “intellect” and recommending her for her district court seat.
Conservatives, however, are expected to push back on at least of some of Biden’s nominees.
President Biden’s Judges are just another way of rewarding liberal dark money groups,” Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino told Fox News, adding that such organizations “spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect him and Senate Democrats.”