The list, first reported by The Washington Post, is Biden’s first wave of judicial nominations, and also includes candidates who, if confirmed, would serve as the first AAPI woman to serve on the US District Court for the District of DC and the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge for the District of Maryland, the White House said Tuesday.
One nominee Biden announced Tuesday is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is picked to fill the seat of Merrick Garland on a powerful DC-based appellate court that is also a breeding ground for potential Supreme Court nominees.
“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”
The Biden administration pledged early on to prioritize judicial nominations and to cast a wide net seeking professional and demographic diversity, including those who had served as public defenders, civil rights lawyers and legal aid attorneys. During the campaign, Biden pledged to name the first African American woman to the Supreme Court should a vacancy arise.
Tuesday’s move will come as a welcome development for progressives eager to regain ground lost after former President Donald Trump placed more than 200 appointees in the courts, including three Supreme Court justices.
Before taking the bench, Jackson, a 2013 Obama nominee to the US District Court of the District of Columbia, served as an assistant federal public defender, as well as a commissioner on the United States Sentencing Commission. She is a former clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer and is seen by some as a future Supreme Court nominee if a new vacancy were to arise. She is perhaps most known for her 2019 opinion ruling that former White House counsel Don McGahn must comply with a congressional subpoena concerning Russia’s alleged interference into the 2016 presidential election. That case is still pending.
Other names on the list of 11 include two other African American women.
- Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who currently works at a Washington, DC-based firm with a focus on white collar criminal defense and investigations, is also on the list for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Before joining private practice, she spent 10 years as an attorney at the Federal Defender Program in the Northern District of Illinois. She attended Princeton University and Yale Law School.
- Tiffany Cunningham, also in private practice, is an intellectual property litigator who previously served as a patent attorney in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A graduate from Harvard Law School who earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from MIT, she would serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit if confirmed.
- Also on the list is Zahid N. Quraishi, who serves as a United States magistrate judge in New Jersey. According to his biography, he is of Pakistani ancestry and is the first Asian-American to serve on the federal bench in New Jersey.
- Judge Florence Y. Pan is a nominee for the US District Court for the District of Columbia who has served as an associate judge on the Superior Court for the District of Columbia since 2009.
Jackson, an African American woman who is only 50 years old, has a degree from Harvard College and Harvard Law. She also served as an assistant federal public defender as well as the vice chair and commissioner on the United States Sentencing Commission. She did stints with large law firms to help support her family and gave an unusual speech at the University of Georgia School of Law in 2017 on a topic that underlines her particular story.
Her talk, called “Reflections on my journey as a mother and a judge,” illustrated how hard it is for mothers to serve in law firms that are often the stepping stones to judicial appointments. “I don’t think it is possible to overstate the degree of difficulty that many young women, and especially new mothers, face in the law firm context,” she said. She noted that the hours are long and there is little control over the schedule which is “constantly in conflict with the needs of your children and your family.”
In 2019, she issued a 120-page opinion relying upon separation of powers principles to rule against the Trump’s administration’s attempts to block McGahn’s congressional testimony.
“Presidents are not kings,” she said, adding that the Trump administration’s assertion that it had “absolute testimonial immunity” protecting its senior level aides “is a proposition that cannot be squared with core constitutional values” and “cannot be sustained.”
She held that “individuals who been subpoenaed for testimony by an authorized committee of Congress must appear for testimony in response to that subpoena—i.e., they cannot ignore or defy congressional compulsory process, by order of the President or otherwise,” although she stressed that such individuals are free to assert executive privilege in response to the questions asked of them.
As things stand, there are currently 72 vacancies, according to the Administrative Office of the US courts and 28 future vacancies where judges have noted an intent to retire on a future date.
Although the Biden administration has put strong emphasis on nominations, vowing to fill seats quickly to begin to make up for the more than 200 Trump appointees, there had been some grumbling from progressives that it wasn’t moving quickly enough. That criticism should diminish with Tuesday’s list.