Twelve State Court Judges the Next Democratic President May Elevate to the Court of Appeals

For the last few weeks, we have been looking at potential nominees for the Court of Appeals.  Previously, we looked at  state court judges who may be potential appellate nominees under President Trump.  This time, we’ll look at potential Democratic appellate nominees from the state bench.

D.C. Circuit – Judge Corinne Beckwith

While there are dozens of qualified Democrats waiting for appointment to the D.C. Circuit in a potential Biden Administration, don’t sleep on Judge Corinne Beckwith of the D.C. Court of Appeals.  Judge Beckwith, who is 57, has impeccable credentials, having clerked for Judge Richard Cudahy on the Seventh Circuit and Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Furthermore, unlike most Supreme Court clerks, Beckwith has spent her entire legal career as a public defender, serving at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia until her appointment to the bench in 2011.  As Democrats seek to diversify the career pools that lead to the bench, Beckwith may well be a judge they turn to.

First Circuit – Judge Melissa Long

Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson has been a trailblazer on the bench, having been the first African American woman on the Rhode Island Superior Court and on the First Circuit.  If she takes senior status upon reaching eligibility next year, the frontrunner may be Judge Melissa Long, who has followed Judge Thompson’s example.  The 49-year-old Long, who is currently under consideration for an appointment to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, was Deputy Secretary of State before being appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo to the Rhode Island Superior Court.

Second Circuit – Justice Raheem Mullins

The 42-year-old Mullins, who serves on the Connecticut Supreme Court, has already been a judge for eight years, in which time he has established himself as a fair and reasoned jurist with opinions in key areas of law.  For example, Mullins wrote for the Connecticut Supreme Court in ordering the release of police records regarding Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Sandy Hook shooting of 2012.  Mullins has already been touted here as a prospective Supreme Court nominee, but he would also be a compelling nominee to the Second Circuit to replace Judges Jose Cabranes, Susan Carney, or Robert Katzmann.

Third Circuit – Justice Tamika Montgomery Reeves

While recently confirmed New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Fabiana Pierre-Lewis is an obvious choice for the Third Circuit, one that is mentioned far less often is Delaware Supreme Court Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves.  Montgomery-Reeves is, at 39, younger than Pierre-Lewis, and already has five years of judicial experience.  Furthermore, she has already made history as the first African-American on the Delaware Supreme Court, and could continue the trend by being the first African-American woman on the Third Circuit.

Fourth Circuit – Judge Christopher Brook

Judge James Wynn, who is eligible for senior status in 2022, has established a reputation as one of the most liberal judges on the Fourth Circuit.  In choosing to replace him, the Biden Administration may well turn to Judge Christopher Brook, who serves on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  Brook, who is 41 years old, formerly served as the Legal Director of the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, and his civil rights background would be consistent with the recent calls for candidates from unconventional backgrounds.

Fifth Circuit – Judge Chari Kelly

The 2018 elections left Democrats with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to appellate judges across Texas.  Many of the newly elected judges are young and diverse and would be strong contenders of the Fifth Circuit or the U.S. District Courts.  One name to consider is that of Judge Chari Kelly, who serves on the Austin based Third District Court of Appeals.  Kelly, who is in her early forties, is a veteran and former Travis County prosecutor who was previously named prosecutor of the year by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Kelly would make a viable candidate for the Fifth Circuit if a vacancy opened.

Sixth Circuit – Judge Camille McMullen

Judge Camille McMullen may only be 49 years old, but she’s already had twelve years of experience as an appellate judge, allowing her to hit the ground running if she’s chosen to replace Judges Bernice Donald, Julia Smith Gibbons, or Jane Stranch.  Judge McMullen was a federal prosecutor for years before being appointed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in 2008 by Governor Phil Bredesen.  As Biden has indicated that he seeks to replenish the bench of African American jurists on the Court of Appeals, McMullen seems like a promising choice.

Seventh Circuit – Judge Rachel Graham

In June 2019, Governor Tony Evers made his first judicial appointment, picking 43-year-old Rachel Graham to serve on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  Judge Graham was then re-elected unopposed in 2020 and currently serves on the appellate bench.  The Wisconsin native would be one of the first choices if Judge Diane Sykes vacates her seat in a Biden Administration.

Eighth Circuit – Justice Courtney Hudson

Justice Courtney Hudson may only be 47 years old but she already has a decade of experience on the Arkansas Supreme Court.  With the Eighth Circuit desperately short of female judges, Hudson could be first on the list of candidates considered if Judges Bobby Shepherd or Lavenski Smith took senior status.

Ninth Circuit – Judge Gabriel Sanchez

When looking at state court judges for elevation, one obviously has to consider the four young Democrats serving on the California Supreme Court.  However, an appointment to the Ninth Circuit could arguably be a demotion for these justices, and more viable options could be drawn from the California courts of appeal.  Consider, for example, Judge Gabriel Sanchez of the First District Court of Appeal.  Sanchez is well-qualified for an appellate seat, having graduated from Yale Law School, clerked on the Ninth Circuit, and having practiced law at Munger Tolles & Olson and the California Attorney General’s Office.  Furthermore, Sanchez, who was the first latino judge on the First District Court of Appeal, is only 44 and could serve decades if tapped for the Ninth Circuit.

Tenth Circuit – Justice Monica Marquez

Judge Carlos Lucero is 80 years old, and has been eligible for senior status from 2008.  As such, it would not be surprising to have him take senior status in the next four years, and, if elected, expect the Biden Administration to strongly consider Justice Monica Marquez of the Colorado Supreme Court.  The 51 year old Marquez was the first Latina and the first LGBTQ judge on the Colorado Supreme Court when she was appointed in 2010.  Since then, she has established a strongly liberal record on the high court, and would be an ideal Democratic pick for the Tenth Circuit.

Eleventh Circuit – Judge Ken Hodges

The 54-year-old Hodges is a rarity, a Democrat elected statewide in Georgia.  The Peach State native was elected to the Georgia Court of Appeals with 70% of the vote in 2018, an impressive showing for someone without a statewide profile.  While Hodges does have his share of controversies, if Democrats take the Senate, they would be no longer limited by blue slips for appellate positions, and Hodges could be a contender for the Eleventh Circuit.

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