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Biden names diverse slate of nominees in first effort to reshape federal courts

Biden plans to nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, filling Attorney General Merrick Garland's former seat.
Image: President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House, March 29, 2021.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his first slate of judicial nominees, including three Black women for important circuit court vacancies.

The White House said his 11 nominees "reflect the full diversity of the American people — both in background and in professional experience." The group includes the first Asian American woman for the district court in Washington, D.C., and the first woman of color for the district court in Maryland.

The pick that quickly garnered the most attention was Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Biden has been planning for weeks to nominate her. She is widely seen as a future Supreme Court prospect, after the president promised to choose a Black woman if a seat becomes vacant while he's in office.

Jackson is being named to fill the vacancy left by Attorney General Merrick Garland on what some consider the second-most-influential federal court. She has served on the U.S. District Court in Washington since 2013, when she was confirmed by the Senate without controversy on a voice vote, and was previously vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson listens to arguments as local high school students observe a reenactment of a landmark Supreme court case at U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, on Dec. 18, 2019.Bill O'Leary / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Progressive advocates were prepared for her nomination.

"Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a rising star whose time on the Court of Appeals may prove a stepping stone," said Brian Fallon, the executive director of the courts-focused Demand Justice. "She and the other public defenders and civil rights lawyers in this group are exactly the kind of judges we need to rebalance our courts."

The slate of new nominees, which includes nine women, “draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden said in a statement announcing the nominees.

The White House said the nominees come from an array of legal backgrounds, including prosecutors, public defenders, jurists and those who who served in the military and in the private sector. The White House has previously indicated that it expects to pick fewer corporate lawyers and prosecutors for judgeships.

The Senate will "work quickly to confirm President Biden’s superb and accomplished judicial picks," Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

He praised the "rich diversity" of the nominees and said Democrats' efforts to fill growing judicial vacancies will "significantly mitigate the influence of Donald Trump’s unqualified, right-wing judges."

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement that he looks "forward to processing these nominations expeditiously and to hearing from these nominees," but didn't provide a timeline.

Democrats have a paper-thin majority in the 50-50 Senate, leaving no room for error unless they win some Republican support. Nominees for all courts cannot be filibustered and need a simple majority to be confirmed.

One nominee, Judge Florence Y. Pan for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Asian American woman to serve on that court.

Judge Zahid N. Quraishi, who is Muslim, will be nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. He has served as a magistrate judge for that court since 2019.

Biden also plans to nominate Julien Neals, a counsel and acting administrator of Bergen County, New Jersey, for that state's federal district court. Another nominee is Lydia Griggsby, a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and Magistrate Judge Deborah Boardman for Maryland's federal district court. And another is Rupa Ranga Puttagunta, an administrative judge on the District of Columbia's Rental Housing Commission, for the D.C. Superior Court.

The president will also nominate several lawyers, including Chicago attorney Tiffany Cunningham for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; Washington lawyer Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Denver attorney Regina Rodriguez for Colorado's federal district court; and New Mexico lawyer Margaret Strickland for that state's federal district court.