Biden announces first round of federal judiciary nominees

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President Biden announced his first round of judicial nominees Tuesday morning, igniting a flurry of speculation about who is on his Supreme Court shortlist.

The commander-in-chief, who entered office with 68 judicial vacancies, sent 11 nominations to the Senate for confirmation, leading with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace newly-installed Attorney General Merrick Garland for the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

If confirmed, Jackson, who was widely seen as the frontrunner for weeks, will almost certainly be propelled to the top of Biden’s Supreme Court shortlist.

During the campaign, then-candidate Biden pledged to nominate a black woman to the nation’s highest bench once a vacancy occurred.

Jackson is being nominated to the DC Circuit, which is generally thought of as the second highest bench in the nation.

It is also widely considered as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the late Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all served on the DC Circuit.

Garland, who Jackson will replace on the bench if confirmed, was previously nominated to fill Scalia’s seat in 2016, though the Senate declined to fill the vacancy during an election year.

Jackson, nominated by then-President Obama in 2013 to the US District Court of the District of Columbia, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest member of the top bench at 82.

Since Biden took office in January, progressive judicial groups have expressed their eagerness to fill the 82-year-old’s seat with a young, liberal replacement who could serve for decades.

Asked about his plans in an interview with Slate in December, Breyer said, “I mean, eventually I’ll retire, sure I will,” adding that, “[I]t’s hard to know exactly when.”

It remains to be seen whether Breyer will bow to the political pressures from the rising progressive left and bow out, as Democrats appear to worry that such a vacancy should be filled while Biden still has the Senate in Democratic control.

Despite her credentials working under Obama and Breyer, Jackson is likely best known for her 2019 opinion requiring then-White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That case is still pending.

Jackson, whose non-controversial 2013 nomination was confirmed in the Senate by voice vote, certainly has progressive backing. She was on a shortlist released by Demand Justice, a progressive group focused on the federal judiciary, of top picks for the Supreme Court.

The group released the list of 32 names in 2019 as part of a larger effort to convince the dozens of Democratic presidential candidates at the time to release their own list.

The tactic was originally used by then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential race.

In addition to Jackson, Biden also nominated two other African American women to the bench: Candace Jackson-Akiwumi to the US Court of Appeals in the Seventh Circuit and Tiffany Cunningham to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Jackson-Akiwumi is currently a partner at the DC law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. Prior to that, she spent a decade as a public defender for the Northern District of Illinois.

Cunningham is a partner at Perkins Coie LLP.

Perkins Coie became a topic of public scrutiny after it was alleged to have participated in the acquisition of the infamous “Steele Dossier” at the center of the “Russia collusion” investigation.

Also on Biden’s list is Julien Xavier Neals, whose 2015 nomination by Obama to the US District Court for New Jersey was upended by then-Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) alongside 20 other names put forward at the time.

Biden will renominate Neals, currently the county counsel for Bergen County, NJ, to the same position as Obama did in 2015.

Aside from Obama and Biden’s, Neals also had the serious backing of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden, a former Senate Judiciary Chairman, 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.”

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