Hailed by many as historic, President Joe Biden’s first list of judicial nominees brings needed balance to the federal judiciary in multiple ways. Out of the 11 nominees, nine are women.
Four Black women made the list of judicial nominees, including former public defenders and civil rights attorneys, showing Biden has heeded progressive calls and kept his own promises to diversify federal judges’ legal backgrounds.
“This list powerfully affirms that nominees who are racially diverse and whose professional background reflects a broad range of practice are available to serve on the federal bench,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund President and Director-Counsel said in a statement. “Such diversity will greatly enhance the judiciary and judicial decision-making.”
It has been at least a decade since a Black woman has been nominated to a federal court of appeals. Only eight Black women have served overall.
Here’s some more information about the Black people who Biden has nominated to the federal court.
Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as Attorney General Merrick Garland’s replacement on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Since 2013, Jackson has served as a judge for the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.
She was also once a clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer. Jackson was also a public defender for a time. According to NPR, Jackson was vice-chairperson for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, working “to reduce the draconian penalties that had been in place for crack cocaine.”
In a decision ordering a Trump advisor to testify before a House committee, Jackson put the former president in his place on the subject of immunity. “Presidents are not kings,” wrote Jackson. “In this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States.”
Jackson was also reportedly considered for President Barack Obama’s shortlist for U.S. Supreme Court nominees in 2016.
Biden pledged to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court when a vacancy arises. Groups like #SheWillRise sees the nominations as a step toward nominating a Black woman to the nation’s highest court.
“Systemic racism in America persists, in part, because our courts, legislatures, and civil services for the people of the United States have always been predominantly white and male,” She Will Rise Cohort Member and civil rights attorney, Kimberly Tignor, said in a statement. Tignor said nominating Black women creates a pipeline to the Supreme Court and increases the federal judiciary’s integrity.
Nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, also served as a federal public defender. Jackson-Akiwumi is the first Black woman and the second person of color to serve on the court. She served from 2010 to 2020.
Patent lawyer Tiffany Cunningham is the first Black woman to be appointed to the Federal Circuit Appeals Court. The federal circuit handles claims against the government.
Currently serving on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Judge Lydia Griggsby was nominated for the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Griggsby will make the first Black woman to serve on the Maryland bench.
Julien Neals was again nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Obama originally nominated Neals in 2015, but Republican petty indefinitely delayed the confirmation. Once confirmed, he will be the first Black judge for that district.
Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.
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