Economy

Potential Supreme Court candidates during a second President Biden term

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WASHINGTON — A continuing focus on diversity appears to be the political strategy for how President Biden would approach filling any Supreme Court vacancies in a second term. 

Sources close to the White House and his re-election campaign say the president would use the successful nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as a template for navigating any future high court opening.

For now, officials say he plans to more prominently tout Jackson’s confirmation to various key constituencies as the presidential campaign intensifies, especially to Black voters who will be key to his re-election.

After Justice Stephen Breyer announced his 2022 retirement, Biden committed early on to naming the first Black woman as his replacement and gathered a number of qualified jurists for initial vetting. That internal list then expanded before three finalists were ultimately reached — Jackson and judges Leondra Kruger and J. Michelle Childs. Kruger and Childs remain top contenders for the Supreme Court, sources say.

The president, in public remarks, has made much of the diversity of his judicial nominees for the courts. Almost two-thirds are women, more than twice those named by President Trump in his single term (Biden 127; 64% as of May 22, versus Trump 55 total; 24%). Biden has also named an equal percentage of members of a racial or ethnic minority group to the federal bench — about 64%.

Biden could make history with the first justice who identifies as Asian American or Pacific Islander and would have more than 30 AAPI judges he has named to the lower federal courts to choose from. 

But any retirement by Justice Clarence Thomas, who turns 75 June 23, or Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who turns 70 two days later, would put political pressure on the next president to name a Black or Latino to the Supreme Court.

Overall, Biden has been actively finding qualified federal candidates to fill bench vacancies. His 200th federal judge was confirmed by the Senate last month, slightly outpacing the number by his predecessor at this point in his presidency. 

The following is an unofficial list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court by Biden. It was compiled from a number of sources, including officials within his inner circle, his political campaign and Democratic political and legal circles. 

The current White House administration, like those before, quickly began compiling an informal list of possible high court nominees to consider in the event of a sudden vacancy. But serious vetting only begins when such a vacancy occurs or is announced in advance by a retiring justice.

Leondra Kruger, California Supreme Court Justice

Born in 1976, Kruger is a former Obama Justice Department lawyer and argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court. She also clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens and was a finalist for the 2022 court seat that went to Brown Jackson. Her sterling resume and relatively young age could continue to make Kruger a strong favorite for a Supreme Court seat, especially if Thomas retires. She’s considered something of a moderate on the state high court and often a ‘swing’ or deciding vote in close cases. But state judges rarely receive serious consideration for the U.S. Supreme Court. The last was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. Kruger’s parents were both pediatricians. Her mother is Jamaican. Her late father was the son of Jewish immigrants. She gave birth to a daughter in March 2016.

Sri Srinivasan, D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Washington

Born in 1967 in India, Srinivasan was later named to the court in 2013 (97-0 vote), months before colleague Patricia Millett joined him. He is now chief judge on that bench. He was a finalist for the seat that Garland was nominated for. The son of Indian immigrants and raised in Kansas. Padmanabhan Srikanth Srinivasan was the principal deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department and argued more than two dozen cases before the Supreme Court. He would be the high court’s first Asian American. He clerked for Republican-nominated federal judges Harvie Wilkinson and Day O’Connor. Obama called him ‘a trailblazer who personifies the best of America.’ Known as low-key, practical and non-ideological, he may not excite many progressives, nor give conservatives much to dislike. 

Justice Elena Kagan has praised him (both worked together in the Obama SG’s office), saying Srinivasan ‘cools it down’ with his calm manner during oral arguments.

Elizabeth Prelogar, U.S. Solicitor General (pronounced: PRE’-low-guhr)

Born in 1980, Prelogar became the 40th solicitor general in October 2021, after serving for months in an acting role. The Idaho native clerked for justices Ginsburg and Kagan, a former solicitor general, and for then-Judge Merrick Garland on the D.C. Circuit appeals court. Besides Kagan, former solicitors general to later become a justice include William Howard Taft, Robert Jackson, Stanley Reed and Thurgood Marshall.

She was a beauty pageant contestant named Miss Idaho in 2004 and appeared last fall on the NPR quiz show, ‘Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me’ (her topic was vacuum cleaner salespeople).

Lisa Monaco, Deputy Attorney General

Born in 1968, Monaco was a former federal prosecutor and national security adviser under Obama from 2013-2017. She worked as a researcher under then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden starting in 1992. Monaco would also be a favorite for attorney general in a second Biden term if Garland retires.

Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Chicago

Born in 1979 in Norfolk, Virginia, both her parents are judges, U.S. District Judge Raymond Alvin Jackson and former Norfolk General District Court Judge Gwendolyn Jackson. A former federal defender in Chicago and, before that, a partner in a D.C. law firm, Jackson-Akiwumi was nominated by Biden in March 2021, one of three Black women named to appeals court seats in the administration’s first months.  

J. Michelle Childs, D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Washington

Born in 1966, Childs was nominated in December 2021 to serve on the high-profile D.C. Circuit appeals court, replacing the retiring Judge David Tatel. She was Biden’s second Black woman on the D.C. Circuit, after now-Justice Jackson. Sources say Rep. Clyburn (D-S.C.) strongly pushed the White House to name the South Carolina-based Childs to this seat. The D.C. Circuit is seen as something of a professional stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Besides Jackson, recent justices who earlier served on that appellate bench include John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Childs had previously been a federal district court judge since 2010. The Detroit native went to law school at the University of South Carolina.

Myrna Pérez, 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, New York

Born in 1974, Pérez was a 2021 appointee to her current seat. She previously served at the progressive Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law as director of its Voting Rights and Elections Program. A native of San Antonio, she would be given serious consideration, especially if Sotomayor retired.  

Nancy Maldonado, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Judge, Chicago

Born in 1975, Maldonado was nominated for a seat on the 7th Circuit. She would be the first Hispanic judge on that federal appeals bench. Her nomination to the high court would have a strong backer in her home state of Illinois. 

Patricia Millett, D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Washington

Born in 1963, Millett was named in 2013 to a bench considered a stepping stone to the high court, where four current justices once served (so did Justice Scalia). Formerly a private Washington-based appellate attorney — Obama called her ‘one of the nation’s finest’ — who also had more than a decade experience in the U.S. Solicitor General’s office. Millett argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court, second-most ever for a female lawyer. Sources from both ideological stripes call her fair-minded, no-nonsense and non-ideological. Age may be a drawback for any future high court vacancies.

Her husband is U.S. Navy reservist Robert King, and the two met at a Methodist Church singles event.

Cindy Kyounga Chung, 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Pittsburgh

Born in 1975, Chung, a Korean-American native, is a Biden appointee to her current seat and a former U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh.

Roopali Desai, 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Phoenix, Arizona

Desai wasborn in 1978 in Toronto, Canada, to parents of Indian descent. After law school in Arizona, Desai, as a private attorney, worked successfully with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office to throw out challenges to the state’s 2020 presidential election results. She was then appointed by Biden to the largest federal appeals court. 

Lucy Haeran Koh, 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, San Francisco

Born in 1968, Koh was renominated in 2021 by Biden to the federal appeals court. Her 2016 nomination expired with the end of the 114th Congress, and then-President Trump subsequently named someone else to the seat. The Oklahoma native is of Korean descent. Koh had been overseeing separate multidistrict litigation involving such tech giants as Samsung and Apple, Inc. She is married to state Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar (see below).

Jacqueline Hong-Ngoc Nguyen, 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Pasadena, California

Born in 1965 in Dalat, Vietnam, and named to the court in 2012 after two years as a federal district court judge, Hong-Ngoc Nguyen could make history as the high court’s first Asian American justice. She is already the first Asian American woman to sit on a federal appeals court. A former state judge, federal prosecutor and private attorney, he moved with her family to the U.S. when she was 10, just after the fall of South Vietnam to the communists. Her parents eventually set up a doughnut shop in North Hollywood, California.

Michelle Friedland, 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, San Jose, California

Born in 1972 and named to the appeals court seat in 2014, Friedland was sworn in by former Justice O’Connor, for whom she once served as a law clerk.

Arianna Freeman, 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Philadelphia

Born in 1978, Freeman is a Biden appointee and the first Black woman on the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Her service as a former federal public defender in the City of Brotherly Love was criticized by Senate Republicans during her judicial confirmation. 

Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Wilmington, Delaware

Born in 1981 in Jackson, Mississippi, Montgomery-Reeves was named by Biden in 2022 to her current seat after her service on the Delaware Supreme Court. Her home state professional roots would be an obvious selling point to the president. 

Paul Watford, private attorney in Los Angeles and former judge

Born in 1967, Watford’s age and background until recently made him a favorite among some liberal court watchers. Named to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2012, he resigned in May 2023 to go into private practice. He was a finalist for the seat that went to Garland in 2017, although that nomination ultimately failed. He clerked for conservative-libertarian former federal Judge Alex Kozinski on the 9th Circuit and later for Bader Ginsburg. He is also a former federal prosecutor and law firm partner. Supporters call the Orange County, California, native an ideological moderate, which may not sit well with progressives seeking a stronger liberal voice. But his rulings limiting police discretion in search and seizure cases have been applauded by left-leaning advocates.

Goodwin Liu, California Supreme Court Justice

Born in 1970 and of Taiwanese descent, Liu is a former Justice Ginsburg law clerk who helped draft her dissent in Bush v. Gore. Liu joined the state high court after twice being rejected in 2011 by Senate Republicans for a seat on a San Francisco-based federal appeals court. He was eventually filibustered after conservatives said he was ‘outside the mainstream,’ expressing concerns over his past statements on a variety of hot-button topics such as same-sex marriage and health care reform. A Liu nomination would be among the most contentious made by a Democratic president. 

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, former California Supreme Court Justice

Born in 1972 in Mexico, Cuéllarwas named in 2021 as president of the D.C.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Nicknamed ‘Tino,’ Cuellar served in the Obama and Clinton administrations and is a former academic specializing in administrative law. He is married to federal Judge Lucy Koh (see above).

Jane Kelly, 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Born in 1964, Kelly is only the second woman to serve on the St. Louis-based court, appointed in 2013 (96-0 vote). She spent most of her legal career as a federal public defender in Iowa. One of her biggest fans is fellow Iowan Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

Kelly graduated in 1991 from the same Harvard Law School class as Obama.

David Barron, 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Boston

Born in 1967, Barron was confirmed to the bench in May 2014. He formerly served as acting assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, then went to Harvard Law School as a professor. He also clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens. Being a white male may hurt his chances if President Biden feels political pressure to replace Justice Ginsburg with another woman.

Robert Wilkins, D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Washington

Born in 1963, Wilkins is an Indiana native and was raised by a single mother. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1989. He filed a civil rights lawsuit in 1992 against the Maryland State Police after being pulled over for speeding after officers were instructed to focus on young Black males when making lawful traffic stops.

Cheryl Ann Krause, 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Philadelphia

Born in 1968, Krause was a law clerk for two Republican-appointed court judges, including Justice Anthony Kennedy. She was named to her current seat in 2014 by Obama. 

Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

A few members of Congress typically get mentioned on these lists, often as a political courtesy, especially to those senators who would vote on any nomination. Frequently mentioned are two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (and former 2020 presidential candidates) who gained national prominence during the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

Booker, born in 1969, is the former mayor of Newark and one of four Black senators. Klobuchar, born in 1960, was a county prosecutor and adviser to former Vice President Walter Mondale. She was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for Biden and has frequently been mentioned as a high court candidate, dating back to 2009.

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