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Jackson’s Appointment to Supreme Court Leaves Powerful Judicial Vacancy in DC

April 8, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Jackson’s Appointment to Supreme Court Leaves Powerful Judicial Vacancy in DC

WASHINGTON — Ketanji Brown Jackson’s elevation on Thursday to the Supreme Court leaves open a judgeship on what is often considered the second most powerful court in the United States.

Jackson resigned her post as a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia before the Senate voted to confirm her.

Now President Joe Biden must nominate a replacement, whose rulings often influence which cases get directed to the Supreme Court. 

The D.C. Court of Appeals also decides many of the appeals against the government agencies that set administrative rules for the rest of the nation.


In addition to Jackson, three of the current nine justices on the Supreme Court were previously Court of Appeals judges. They are Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

Some legal experts expect Biden to follow a conventional selection process that will lead him to middle-of-the-road or slightly liberal judges, which would be far different from the Trump administration.

Based on other federal judges Biden nominated, George Washington University Law School professor Paul Schiff Berman said, “[The president] is looking first and foremost at more traditional qualifications of merit in terms of a person’s educational background, work background, achievements in the legal field, the respect that person has among their colleagues, etc.”

Former President Donald Trump preferred former prosecutors and big law firm partners for his near-record 234 appointments. Biden has been nominating judges from a wider variety of backgrounds, often including public defenders and law professors.

He also appears to be seeking ethnic diversity for his goal of making the judiciary “look like America.”

The White House so far has not commented on any potential nominations for the Court of Appeals.

Berman said Biden’s search for judicial qualifications and diversity might lead him next to someone like Florence Y. Pan, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. She has served as a federal judge since last fall. She also is Asian American.


“She is someone who is extraordinarily well qualified by all the traditional metrics,” Berman said.

She is a former federal prosecutor and a former District of Columbia Superior Court judge. The Senate confirmed her as a federal judge by a 68-30 margin.

Other top contenders include Jia Cobb, a former civil rights attorney who typically represented clients suing for housing discrimination and criminal justice misconduct. Biden appointed Cobb, who is Black, to become a federal judge in Washington, D.C., last year.

Another leading candidate is Tanya Chutkan, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2014.

As an attorney, she worked as a public defender and as a law firm white collar defense attorney. 

As a federal judge, Chutkan ruled in 2019 that the U.S. Education Department illegally delayed regulations to update how states calculate racial disparities in the identification of children eligible for special education.

She also issued a preliminary injunction against the Justice Department regarding the death penalty, which was intended to halt executions until inmates’ legal challenges to the Federal Death Penalty Act were decided.

Biden’s quest for ethnic diversity in the judiciary prompted the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to ask the president to appoint the Court of Appeals’ first Latino judge. 

The group recently sent a letter to the White House listing seven Latinos who it believes to be qualified for the job.

The more immediate issue for Biden was a White House ceremony Friday where he congratulated Jackson on her appointment to the Supreme Court.


Biden said the Senate confirmation made the appointment “a moment of real change in American history.”

Tom can be reached at [email protected]

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Corrections

This article previously incorrectly stated that if nominated Florence Y. Pan would be the first Asian American to serve on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

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