Senate panel advances Biden’s first group of judicial nominees

President Joe Biden
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The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced President Biden’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 Garland’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.

Despite Republican opposition, including from ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (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 Graham (R-S.C.) voted for both while Sen. John Cornyn (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 Trump’s success over the past four years at pushing through conservative judges at a near-record pace.

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 Breyer, 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.

Tags Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Joe Biden John Cornyn judicial confirmations Lindsey Graham Merrick Garland Stephen Breyer
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