Judiciary Committee advances nomination of Merrick Garland appeals court replacement, other judges

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The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday advanced the nomination of Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson to replace Attorney General Merrick Garland on U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a bench that’s considered the second-highest court in the land and a frequent stop for future Supreme Court justices. 

Jackson has long been touted in progressive circles as a potential candidate for elevation from her trial court post to an appeals court or even the Supreme Court. Her nomination was reported favorably by a vote of 13-9.

Jackson comes with the kind of credentials seen in many nominees to appeals courts, including a law degree from Harvard Law School and a clerkship with Justice Stephen Breyer. She also clerked on the First Circuit before that and in the District of Massachusetts. 

D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden’s nominee to replace Attorney General Garland on the D.C. Circuit Court. 
(U.S. District Court, District of Columbia)

Jackson was nominated to the federal bench by former President Barack Obama and confirmed in 2013. 

Among her high-profile opinions was one in a case between the House Judiciary Committee and former White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was ordered not to testify before the committee, despite a subpoena, by former President Trump, citing executive privilege. 

Jackson wrote that “Presidents are not kings” and therefore “they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that he would be voting against Jackson, as well as 7th Circuit nominee Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who the committee also reported favorably Thursday by a vote of 12-10. 

Jackson-Akiwumi is a former clerk from the Northern District of Illinois and the Fourth Circuit. She went to Princeton for undergrad and Yale for her law degree. 

Grassley said that Democrats “systematically” opposed qualified and diverse Trump nominees “because those nominees weren’t committed to a living Constitution,” which is Democrats’ preferred judicial philosophy. 

“I think Republicans should adhere to a similar standard,” Grassley continued, saying Republicans should hold Democrat nominees to a standard of supporting originalism, which is Republicans’ preferred philosophy. 

Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi, Grassley said, “have impressive backgrounds but neither has satisfied me that they will adhere to the Constitution as originally understood.”

Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., however said that both Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi will make strong judges due to their respective backgrounds. 

“Jackson has issued close to 600 opinions on cases touching on “a broad range of issues,” Durbin said. He continued to say that she’s “proven time and again she’s driven by an abiding belief in impartiality in the rule of law.”

“With her evenhanded approach to judicial decision-making, and the depth and breadth of her experience as a judge… I have every confidence that Judge Jackson will serve as a model jurist,” he added. 

On Jackson-Akiwumi, Durbin noted her long tenure as a public defender that makes her an “experienced litigator who will bring much-needed diversity both professional and racial” to the 7th Circuit. 

“She’s worked on every stage of the criminal justice process,” he added. “This experience has given her an understanding of the real-world impact of sentencing decisions and disparities. It also reflects her deep commitment to equality in justice.

The Judiciary Committee Thursday also advanced the nominations of three district court judges on a bipartisan vote for each. 

President Biden and Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats will have a long way to go if they hope to match the effort by former President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans in confirming judges to the federal bench. Trump confirmed 54 judges to the powerful federal circuit courts of appeals in his four years and 234 total judges to Article III courts overall.

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