Some well-known lawyers in the region are backing Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Ahead of her confirmation hearing scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, two letters signed by more than 200 lawyers — including four former U.S. attorneys for the Northern District of Illinois — were sent on her behalf to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the panel’s chairman.
One letter garnered 134 signatures from the likes of former judges, criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors, including ex-U.S. Attorneys Patrick Fitzgerald, Scott Lassar, Dan Webb and Anton Valukas. The note that Jackson-Akiwumi would be the first federal defender ever seated on the court — an important point given the criticism of past presidents who tend to nominate white former prosecutors or corporate attorneys for the bench.
In the letter they write in part: “If confirmed, she will be the only judge of color on the court, and first to join since Judge Ann Claire Williams retired from the court in 2017. Again, this diversity of experience is critically important to reflect on the bench. And although we do not know Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi personally, her record and career reflect the commitment to the law and range of legal experience that will serve her well on the court.”
The Seventh Circuit, which hears a range of civil and criminal matters, includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
A Yale Law School graduate, Jackson-Akiwumi at one point was an assistant federal defender in Chicago for nearly a decade. She currently works for a Washington firm where she focuses on complex civil litigation, white-collar criminal defense and investigations, according to her White House bio. From 2007 to 2010, Jackson-Akiwumi was a litigation associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Chicago, before moving on to the federal defender’s office where she represented indigent clients.
In a separate letter signed by 90 local attorneys, many of whom worked side by side or across the table from her in legal cases, they wrote: “We are unified in our support for Candace’s nomination, as we know from our experience with her that she is a talented lawyer, a dedicated public servant, and will serve the court as a champion of justice and the rule of law.”
Among those who signed that letter were Andrea Zopp, former CEO of World Business Chicago and Tina Tchen, a Chicago lawyer who also was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff in the White House.
In private practice she “exhibited the ability to address complex legal issues, respond to fast-paced litigation, and exercised mature judgment well beyond her years of experience,” they wrote. They noted, too, that her first argument before the Seventh Circuit was as part of the court’s program to provide representation for indigent criminal defendants on appeal.
“Throughout her career, she earned a reputation of working respectfully with co-counsel and adversaries alike, fostering the culture of collegiality and dignity.”
While the hearing is Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote at a later date before moving to a confirmation vote by the full Senate.
After her nomination was announced by the White House last month, Durbin issued a statement welcoming her and the rest of Biden’s slate.
Lisa Donovan is the host of The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.