President Biden’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive government are continuing beyond his picks for Cabinet and military leadership as he sets his sights on expanding the appointment of Black women on more local courts.
According to John Fritze and Ledyard King of USA Today, Biden is poised “to double the number of African American women serving on the nation’s federal appeals courts during his first few months in office.”
“While advocates for greater diversity say the share is still too small, Biden is on track to expand the number of Black female appellate judges to eight from four, ensuring that at least one Black woman is serving on more than half the nation’s circuit courts,” Fritze and King reported.
So far, Biden’s highest-profile Black female nominee is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed Monday, June 14, to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Three more Black women nominees have also been named for additional federal appeals court positions, and pundits expect all three to be on course for confirmation.
According to Fritze and King, “if those three are confirmed, and none of the current judges retire, it would represent the largest number of Black women serving on appeals courts in history.”
In a statement celebrating Jackson’s confirmation, Leslie Davis, CEO of the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms, said, “Black women bring a perspective to the bench that is sorely missing. It’s an exciting time for the president to be thinking intentionally about the need for that voice.”
According to Davis, it’s not just the voices of Black women judges that are needed — it’s also their representation. The four African American women currently on the appeals bench comprise just 2% of the 179 appellate judges across the country. In comparison, Black women comprise 7% of the U.S. population — a clear disparity that needs to be addressed for true equity and parity in the courts.
In addition to her history-making confirmation, many eyes are on Jackson and her potential political future. President Biden has previously promised to name a Black woman judge to the Supreme Court should a position become available. And since most candidates for Supreme Court appointments come from the appellate branch of the court system, Jackson could be a leading candidate for any potential nominations that might come about during Biden’s Presidency.
“Many court observers believe Jackson, who made President Barack Obama’s shortlist for the Supreme Court in 2016, will be a top contender,” Fritze and King reported. “Biden would get his chance if Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, decides to retire before the midterm elections.”
“She has all the qualities of a model jurist. She is brilliant, thoughtful, collaborative and dedicated to applying the law impartially,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said during Jackson’s confirmation process. “For these qualities, she has earned the respect of both sides.”
He later called the Harvard Law School alumna “the perfect person for the job.”
Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, agreed with that sentiment, issuing a statement saying, “there has not been a Black woman confirmed to the circuit courts in almost 10 years. And that shocking fact makes fulfilling President Biden’s promise to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court especially important.”
“The background and experiences of judges shape their perspective and impact their decisions and case outcomes,” Graves added. “Diverse representation also makes a difference in the public perception and trust of the court system.”
Once she takes her position on the D.C. Circuit bench, Jackson will become the fifth sitting Black female appellate judge in the U.S. The others are Judith Rogers, also on the D.C. Circuit; Ojetta Thompson, on the Boston-based 1st Circuit; Johnnie Rawlinson, on the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit; and Bernice Donald, who serves on the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit appeals court.