The Senate Judiciary Committee sent the first slate of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees to the Senate floor on Thursday, in a relatively subdued debate compared with partisan clashes over appeals court picks in previous years.
That included the high-profile nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She has been mentioned as a potential Biden pick for any future Supreme Court vacancy.
The D.C. Circuit has been the focal point for monumental confirmation showdowns because it handles many administrative cases that affect policies nationwide.
When Republicans blocked nominees to that court in 2013, for example, Democrats changed long-standing Senate rules that gave the minority party the ability to do so.
This time, though, Republicans voted without comment on Jackson, except for the top Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa. He said that Republicans in the past had been more deferential than Democrats on appeals court picks from presidents of the opposite party.
Grassley added that neither Jackson nor Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit “satisfied me that they will adhere to the Constitution as originally understood.”
On Jackson’s nomination, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas voted with Democrats, 13-9, to advance the nomination to the floor. On Jackson-Akiwumi’s nomination, Graham voted with Democrats, 12-10, to advance the nomination.
Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi are Black women who previously worked as public defenders, and Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois highlighted that diversity compared with President Donald Trump’s appeals court picks.
“It is unfortunate that not a single African American circuit court nominee was put forward in the last four years — 54 Circuit Court appointments and zero black nominees,” Durbin said. “It’s about time to change that, and I think President Biden is choosing to elevate highly qualified and diverse nominees.”
On Jackson-Akiwumi, who will fill a seat on the 7th Circuit traditionally from Illinois, Durbin said there appear to be only two sitting federal judges who spent a majority of their legal career as federal public defenders.
“I've lost count of how many former federal prosecutors we have on the bench, and they do an extraordinary job, but there are six of them on the 7th Circuit alone,” Durbin said.
The committee also voted to advance three district court nominees: Julien Neals and Zahid Quraishi for the District of New Jersey and Regina Rodriguez for the District of Colorado.