2021: The Year of the Black Lady Lawyer—a Running List

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2021: The Year of the Black Lady Lawyer—a Running List

Rewire News Group Staff

Until this year, only eight Black women had been confirmed as federal appellate judges. Since January, President Biden has nominated five more.

Until this year, only eight Black women had been federal appeals court judges.

But as you may remember, Rewire News Group‘s Imani Gandy, senior editor of law and policy, deemed 2021 the year of the Black lady lawyer. As she wrote back in April, after President Biden released his first slate of nominees:

It’s exciting to think about our federal judiciary beginning to represent what this country actually looks like. For the past four years we’ve seen a murder of white dudes become federal court judges. Trump appointed something like 200 judges, and at least 250 of those 200 were white. (He appointed a lot of white judges, is what I’m saying.)

Biden’s picks are such a nice antidote to the unbearable whiteness of Donald Trump’s judicial nominees that it’s enough to make me want to rip off my bra and go running into the night. Just kidding, who wears a bra in a pandemic? The very idea baffles me.

Rewire News Group will be tracking and updating this list of the Black women nominated and confirmed for federal appellate judgeships, so keep checking back.

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Judicial nominee

Judge Holly Thomas is a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court. If confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, she would be the first Black woman to serve on the Ninth Circuit from California, as well as the second Black woman to serve on the court. She has worked as a civil rights litigator and on fair housing policy. The youngest of Biden’s four nominees to the Ninth Circuit, Thomas has worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

Confirmed judges

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the second Black woman to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She’s a former federal public defender who was nominated to fill Merrick Garland’s vacancy after he was chosen to head the Department of Justice. While a district court judge, Jackson oversaw a number of high-profile cases, including one regarding Trump’s White House counsel. In her opinion in that case, she famously declared, “presidents are not kings.”

Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi is the only person of color on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She’s another former federal public defender. “If I were confirmed as a judge, I could serve as a role model for any number of people coming behind me, and that’s not limited to people of the same race or same gender,” Jackson-Akiwumi said during her confirmation hearing.

Judge Tiffany Cunningham is the first Black woman to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. She has around two decades of experience as a litigator, and she holds a chemical engineering degree from MIT.

Judge Eunice Lee, a longtime public defender, is now the second Black woman to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Her confirmation in August makes her the only former federal public defender among the Second Circuit’s ten active judges.

This post was adapted from Twitter threads.