Republicans will face a dilemma this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers two of President Biden’s priority picks for the federal court, both Black women with impeccable credentials. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is slated to fill Merrick Garland’s former seat on the U.S. District Court of Appeals, often a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. And Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, nominated for the Seventh Circuit, would be only the third federal appellate court judge in history to have spent a majority of their career as a public defender.
Both women fit the model of new judges Biden has talked about to bring more diversity in terms of both race and professional backgrounds to a federal bench grown top-heavy with prosecutors trained in punitive justice and partners from big law firms whose world view doesn’t see past corporate America. And their qualifications cannot be assailed—at least not fairly. Republicans have already twice voted to confirm Judge Jackson, 50, a Harvard Law grad: as vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2010, where she oversaw the reduction of sentences for crack cocaine and other drug-related offenses, and then to the U.S. District Court in 2013.
Jackson-Akiwumi, 41, is currently with a major law firm where she focuses on white collar criminal defense, but before that, from 2010 to 2020, she was a public defender in Chicago, a job she described on the website of Yale Law School, her alma mater, as having “meaning to me. I provide quality representation to people who would not be able to afford it, and I am there for clients at a most dreary and frightening juncture: when they are being judged for the worst day or days in their life.”