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Senate panel advances Biden's first group of judicial nominees

Senate panel advances Biden's first group of judicial nominees
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The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE's first group of judicial nominees, teeing up five potential judges for confirmation votes.

The batch of nominees includes Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's pick to fill Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandHouse Judiciary asks DOJ to disclose remaining gag orders The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Biden frustrates death penalty opponents with Supreme Court request MORE's seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and an early favorite for the next Supreme Court vacancy.

The panel also advanced Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who was nominated for a seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Despite Republican opposition, including from ranking member Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFive takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision On The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Overnight Health Care: US buying additional 200M Moderna vaccine doses | CureVac's COVID-19 vaccine failed in preliminary trial results | Grassley meets with House Dems on drug prices MORE (Iowa), Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi were approved in 13-9 and 12-10 votes, respectively.

Only two Republicans crossed the aisle to support the nominees. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-S.C.) voted for both while Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Senate is where dreams go to die Federal government to observe Juneteenth holiday on Friday Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill MORE (R-Texas) backed Jackson.

As Black women and former public defenders, Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi would be historic additions to a federal judiciary predominantly populated by white men with little experience advocating for indigent criminal defendants.

The Judiciary Committee also approved three nominees to sit on the lower courts: Julien Xavier Neals and Zahid Quraishi for the federal district court in New Jersey and Regina Rodriguez for the federal district court in Colorado. All three sailed through their committee votes with broad bipartisan majorities.

Biden and Senate Democrats have been facing pressure to make judicial nominees a high priority in order to answer former President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE's success over the past four years at pushing through conservative judges at a near-record pace.

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The White House and Senate Democrats have pointed to the first two circuit court nominees as evidence of their commitment to increasing the federal judiciary's demographic and professional diversity.

Both Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi have spent time in federal public defender offices, experience that progressives say is too rare on the nation's appellate courts. Advocates argue that the imbalance has contributed to a judicial landscape that is stacked against criminal defendants.

Jackson, who is currently a judge on the D.C. federal district court, was previously a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission where she worked to implement Obama-era initiatives to ease what many saw as racially motivated imbalances in federal sentencing guidelines.

In between stints in private practice and as a commission staffer early in her career, Jackson worked as an assistant federal public defender in D.C. from 2005 to 2007. In 1999, six years after graduating from Harvard Law School, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare in 7-2 ruling MORE, who has been facing mounting calls from many on the left to retire and clear a way for a younger nominee picked by Biden.

Jackson-Akiwumi, a Yale Law School graduate who's currently a partner at the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, spent a decade as an assistant federal public defender in Illinois before entering private practice in 2020.

--Updated at 12:10 p.m.