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Senate confirms Jackson-Akiwumi for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals: Only Black judge on Chicago panel

Jackson-Akiwumi is part of the first wave of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees — picked to reflect diversity in race, gender and, in the case of tapping public defenders, life experience.

Senate Judiciary Committee Considers Nominations For Judges
Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit, is greeted by U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-lll.) prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations on Capitol Hill, April 28, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque/Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On a history-making 53-40 vote — with only three Republicans crossing the aisle — the Senate confirmed Candace Jackson-Akiwumi on Thursday for a seat on the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

She will be only the second Black judge to serve on a court dominated by white men since the 7th Circuit held its first session on June 16, 1891.

Once sworn-in — no date is announced — Jackson-Akiwumi will be the only person of color and the first federal public defender on the court.

Jackson-Akiwumi is part of the first wave of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees — picked to reflect diversity in race, gender and, in the case of tapping public defenders, life experience.

During his four years in office, former President Donald Trump did not nominate any Black appeals court judges. Biden’s nominees are “a striking change. There are very few Black women on the appellate bench at the federal level now,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who studies judicial selections.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Judiciary Committee chair said in a statement, Jackson-Akiwumi “has devoted her life to defending the rule of law, including spending ten years as a federal public defender—representing hundreds of indigent clients at every stage of the legal process and providing them with their constitutional right to counsel.”

The white-male-dominated judiciary on the 7th Circuit, covering Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, serves a population with more than 7.5 million people of color.

It’s not for lack of trying.

In 2016, Republicans blocked a vote on Myra Consetta Selby, a Black associate justice on the Indiana Supreme Court nominated by former President Barack Obama for a seat on the 7th. Ann Williams, the first Black judge on the 7th, retired from the bench several years ago.

The Jackson-Akiwumi confirmation, championed by Durbin, was never in doubt. Democrats control the Senate, and in the case of judges, only 51 votes are needed — not the 60 votes required for many other measures.

Still, the votes were close.

Jackson-Akiwumi advanced out of the Judiciary panel on a 12-10 roll call, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the only GOP yes vote. The top Republican on Judiciary, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was not “satisfied” she would “adhere to the Constitution as originally understood.”

On Wednesday night, Jackson-Akiwumi’s nomination advanced on a 53-47 vote.

The three Republicans backing her were Graham, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. On Thursday, Jackson-Akiwumi was confirmed on a 53-40 roll call, again with the support of the same GOP trio.

Collins and Murkowski are known for crossing the aisle. Graham, more partisan, is inclined as a matter of his personal policy to back presidential nominations.

Seven Republican senators — who all opposed Jackson-Akiwumi on Wednesday night — skipped the confirmation even though they were in the chamber earlier in the day.

Nan Aron, the president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, said in a statement, “Biden has made an important commitment to transforming our courts through bringing real professional and demographic diversity to the federal bench” and “Jackson-Akiwumi’s confirmation is a critically important step in this direction.”

Biden is also picking younger nominees for the lifetime appointments — as did Trump — to create a judiciary legacy lasting potentially for decades.

Jackson-Akiwumi, who was born in 1979, is a graduate of Princeton and Yale law school. Between 2010 and 2020, she was a federal public defender in Chicago, leaving last year to join the D.C. law firm Zuckerman Spaeder.

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement, “For far too long, our courts have not reflected the incredible diversity of our communities, and this is especially true for the Seventh Circuit, which has not had a single judge of color for years.”

FEC delays ruling on Rep. Robin Kelly’s fundraising role as Democratic Party of Illinois chair

The Federal Election Commission board on Thursday decided to hold over to a July meeting a decision dealing with the ability of Rep. Robin Kelly, the chair of Democratic Party of Illinois, to raise non-federal funds for the party.

The issue exists because Kelly, as a federal elected official, has to abide by strict federal fundraising rules that, among other things, puts contribution caps on donations she can solicit or accept.

Kelly — in order to take herself out of the direct fundraising process — is proposing the creation of a special committee to deal with non-federal fundraising.