Candace Jackson-Akiwumi – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Seventh Circuit Nominee Candace Jackson-Akiwumi is an unusual appellate candidate in many ways. If confirmed, she would be the youngest judge appointed to the Seventh Circuit since Judge Frank Easterbrook was appointed in 1985. She would also be the first African American judge on the court since Judge Ann Claire Williams was appointed in 1999. Additionally, her background as a federal public defender fits within President Biden’s call for appointing more public defenders and civil rights attorneys to the federal bench.

Background

Jackson-Akiwumi was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1979. Both of Jackson-Akiwumi’s parents were judges, with her father serving as a U.S. District Judge on the Eastern District of Virginia, and her mother serving as a state trial judge in Norfolk.  Jackson-Akiwumi graduated with honors from Princeton University in 2000 and from Yale Law School in 2005.[1]  After graduating, Jackson-Akiwumi clerked for Judge David Coar on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and for Judge Roger Gregory on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.[2]

After her clerkships, Jackson-Akiwumi joined the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom as a litigation associate.  In 2010, Jackson-Akiwumi joined the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Chicago.  In 2020, Jackson-Akiwumi moved to become a Partner with the Washington D.C. office of Zuckerman Spaeder, where she currently works.

History of the Seat

Jackson-Akiwumi has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  The seat opened on November 30, 2020 when Judge Joel Flaum moved to senior status.  As the seat opened late in the Trump Administration, no nominee was put forward for the vacancy.  On December 30, 2020, incoming Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Durbin reached out to Jackson-Akiwumi to gauge her interest in a judicial appointment.[3]  After a meeting with President Biden and White House Counsel Dana Remus, Jackson-Akiwumi’s appointment was announced on March 30, 2021.

Legal Career

Setting aside her clerkships, Jackson-Akiwumi’s career can be split into her time at Skadden Arps, her time as a federal public defender, and in her current role at Zuckerman Spaeder.  

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom

In 2007, Jackson-Akiwumi joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom as a litigation associate.  In this role, Jackson-Akiwumi primarily worked in complex civil litigation.  While at the firm, Jackson-Akiwumi tried one case before a jury as sole counsel and argued one appeal before the Seventh Circuit.[4]  The appeal she argued involved a challenge to the probable cause supporting the traffic detention that led to her client’s conviction (the challenge was rejected by the Seventh Circuit).[5]

Federal Public Defender

In 2010, Jackson-Akiwumi became a staff attorney with the federal defender program in the Northern District of Illinois, where she represented indigent defendants in the Chicago-based federal courts.  In her ten years with the office, Jackson-Akiwumi tried seven cases to a jury and argued five appeals to the Seventh Circuit.[6]

Among her notable cases with the Office, Jackson-Akiwumi worked with the University of Chicago’s Federal Criminal Justice Clinic to challenge alleged Racially Selective prosecution practices from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.[7] Judge Ruben Castillo, in his ruling in one of the cases where the challenge was raised, chastised the use of “stash-house stings” to pursue federal gun charges, but declined to dismiss the charges against the defendant, finding that he had failed to meet the “high burden” of dismissal.[8]

Zuckerman Spaeder

Since 2020, Jackson-Akiwumi has been a Partner with the Washington D.C. office of Zuckerman Spaeder, where she handles White Collar defense and investigations work.

Overall Assessment

As an appellate nominee in her early 40s, Jackson-Akiwumi has the potential to be a federal judge for the next four decades.  This longevity gives her a unique ability to shape the jurisprudence of the Seventh Circuit.  It also makes her a potential future Supreme Court candidate.  These factors are likely to draw opposition, even though there is little controversy in her background to coalesce opposition around.

As a bottom line, as long as Democrats stick together, Jackson-Akiwumi should be confirmed for the Seventh Circuit in due course, and given her support from Senate Judiciary Chair Durbin, she is likely to be.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 117th Cong. Candace Jackson-Akiwumi: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] See id. at 31.

[4] See id. at 18.

[5] See United States v. Garcia-Garcia, 633 F.3d 608 (7th Cir. 2011).

[6] See Jackson-Akiwumi, supra n.1 at 19.

[7] See United States v. Brown, No. 12 CR 632-1, 2018 WL 1278577 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2018) (Castillo, J.).

[8] See United States v. Brown, 299 F. Supp. 3d 976 (N.D. Ill. 2018) (Castillo, J.).

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