Judge Jeffrey Cummings – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

A former colleague of President Barack Obama at a civil rights firm in Chicago, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cummings has been nominated for a federal judgeship in Illinois.


Cummings received a Bachelor of Arts with High Honors from Michigan State University in 1984 and a J.D. cum laude from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in 1987. Cummings then clerked for Judge Ann Claire Williams on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Williams would later be elevated to the Seventh Circuit).

Subsequently, Cummings joined the Chicago based civil rights firm Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C., where President Obama served as an associate from 1993 to 1996 and as of counsel from 1996 to his senate election in 2004. Cummings served as co-managing partner of the firm until his appointment as magistrate judge in 2019.

History of the Seat

Cummings has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. This seat opened by operation of law on December 5, 2022, when Judge Robert Dow was appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts as counselor to the chief justice.

Like fellow Northern District nominees Nancy Maldonado, Lindsay Jenkins, and LaShonda Hunt, Cummings was recommended for the federal bench by Illinois senators in December 2021.

Legal Career

Cummings has spent virtually his entire career before joining the bench in civil rights work at Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C. He primarily worked in employment discrimination cases, most notably securing a $630,000 settlement to a class of black workers with Area Erectors, Inc., who alleged termination based on race. See Area Erectors, Inc. to Pay $630,000 to Class of Black Workers in Race Discrimination Lawsuit, Targeted News Service, May 29, 2009.

Cummings has also served as a civil defense attorney, defending a beer distribution business against a discrimination suit brought by white contract drivers, who argued that they were fired because the owner came under pressure from the black community to hire more black drivers. See Baker v. Elmwood Distributing Inc., 940 F.2d 1013 (7th Cir. 1991). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, finding that, under Supreme Court precedent, discriminatory discharge is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981, the suit they sued under. See id. at 1017.

Outside the employment context, Cummings represented plaintiffs in a suit alleging that Chicago’s aldermanic districts discriminated against the voting rights of Hispanics. See Political Action Conference v. Daley, 976 F.2d 335 (7th Cir. 1992). The suit was dismissed by Judge Judge James Moran and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. See id. Alongside Obama, Cummings also represented the voter registration organization ACORN in suing the State of Illinois in seeking to have it comply with the National Registration Act of 1993, which the Seventh Circuit ended up ruling unconstitutionally infringes upon state prerogatives. See ACORN v. Edgar, 56 F.3d 791 (7th Cir. 1995).

Cummings has also been a defendant, being sued by an ex-partner who alleged Miner, Barnhill & Garland failed to pay her post-departure compensation to which she was entitled. See Willenson v. Miner, Barnhill & Garland P.C., 998 N.E.2d 984 (Ill. App. 3d 2011). The suit ended with judgment in favor of the firm defendants.


Cummings has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since his appointment in 2019. In this role, he presides over arraignments, bail hearings, and non-dispositive motions. He also handles civil cases by consent of the parties.

Among his rulings as U.S. Magistrate Judge, Cummings ruled that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker would not be required to sit for a deposition as part of a discrimination case against his 2018 campaign. See Pritzker Won’t Have to Sit for Deposition, The Capitol Fax Blog, Feb. 25, 2020. Cummings also ordered the pretrial release of Jim Bob Elliott, an Aurora based member of the far right group the Proud Boys, who was arrested for his participation of the January 6th Capitol breach. See Jon Seidel and Tom Schuba, Aurora Man Charged in ⅙ Capitol riot Riot: Up to a 20-year Prison Term Possible if Aurora Man is Convicted, Chicago Daily Herald, Dec. 22, 2021.

Notably, Cummings recommended that Kroger receive an injunction barring Grubhub from using its new logo, which Kroger alleged was similar to the logo of its brand HomeChef. See Celeste Bott, Ill. Judge Recommends Injunction in Kroger, Grubhub TM Row, Law360, Apr. 12, 2022. U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle declined the recommendation, finding that the plaintiffs had not established a likelihood of success on the merits. See Jasmin Jackson, Kroger Loses Bid to Block Grubhub from Using Logo, Law360, May 26, 2022.

Political Activity

Cummings has frequently donated to Democrats over the course of his career, including to President Barack Obama and Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Overall Assessment

A litigator with three decades of experience and a sitting magistrate judge, Cummings can claim the experience and the knowledge to become a successful trial judge. While he is sure to draw opposition for his work as a civil rights litigator, Cummings is also likely to, with the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, sail to confirmation over such opposition.


    • Age doesn’t bother me that much, particularly with district nominees. In those roles I want people who are going to be good judges and hand down the right judgements. With blue slips in place it’s much less of a risk of a vacancy opening up unexpectedly.

      Now with appellate seats it’s a totally different story and I much prefer to have nominees between 40-50 or maybe 55 at worst.


      • @Joe

        If Durbin doesn’t scrap blue slips I hope you’re right. Unfortunately I do not share your optimism on blue slips remaining in place for district court seats after an entire term of the next Republican president & senate majority. After they scrapped the no confirming a Supreme Court Justice in an election year, filibuster for SCOTUS & blue slips for circuit court seats, I really wish Democrats would beat them to the lunch on scrapping a norm on this one.


  1. With the exception of his age, this is a solid nominee. When I saw his names included in the package of recommendations, I expected him to be named as a nominee eventually. He will be added to the growing list of Biden Black men nominees who are 60 years old or older. But with the number of Biden judges that will be on this court by the end of his term, I’m fine with one being this old.


  2. Judge Joseph Greenaway on the third Circuit is taking senior status on June 15. Biden will get to make a fourth pick to the 3rd Circuit. Who do you all want it to be? I think Georgette Castner is the most progressive likelihood , but it’ll probably be someone more older and conservative.


    • Yes yes yes yes yes. Great news to wake up to. The White House absolutely should take the lead on his replacement. Senator Menendez’s recommendations should be discharged immediately. New Jersey has been by far the worst state with at least one Democrat senator when it comes to judges.

      Either of the woman governor Murphy has put on the New Jersey SCOTUS would be outstanding choices. One would be the first Haitian American woman to be a circuit court judge while the other cleared for RBG & worked extensively with the ACLU. Both are around 42 years old.

      There are so many others that were passed over for the district court vacancies as well. Georgette Castner is the only district court judge that should be considered due to her work on marijuana reform.

      Judge Salas will probably be given heavy consideration because of her being Latina, a Obama appointee & her son being killed by a man who had a trial in her courtroom. But with her being in her mid 50’s, I’m hoping we get a younger pick albeit I would understand why she is picked if she’s the eventual nominee. Now Biden only needs 12 more circuit court vacancies to fill & he can pass Trump’s 54. This is truly great news.


  3. As the senior senator, Menendez will have the most amount of clout in terms of who the nominee will be. With the notable exception of the MD 4th circuit vacancy, Biden tends to defer to who the states senators wish to have nominated.


    • Reading some of the circuit court nominees SJC questionnaire, the administration has reached out to several candidates directly. For example Nancy Abudu’s questionnaire said The White House reached out directly to her.

      You are correct they usually let Democrat senators give them names but it’s not unanimous. I’m hoping that’s the path that is taken for this vacancy. If they defer to Menendez, I would rather Judge Greenaway stay on the bench. It will be a horrible nominee if it’s his pick. I give it a 50/50 chance on a Menendez pick being to the right of Greenaway.


  4. Another black man off the circuit court, its high time biden start nominating black men specifically for these positions, enough is enough, andre mathis took over a year to confirm, jamble has been left in shambles and left hang out to dry with no backing, enough is enough.
    We have had several black women judges, time for black men. Paul watford is retiring , this greenway announcement is 2 black circuit judges.
    It would be an absolute shame if by the end of bidens term the net number of black men appellate judges reduces in number, if you told someone that at the start of the biden admin they would consider you ludicrous.


    • @aangren

      Very good point about there being a real realistic chance of Biden’s term ending with less Black men on the circuit courts then when he started. Between Watford, Greenway, still no Wamble combined with my previous statements on the hard path for Black men to get these seats, it’s a real possibility.


  5. On Cummings: good progressive background but very old for a district court nominee. For context, he’ll be older when confirmed than Lee or Feinerman were when they left NDIL after a decade of service. I wonder if he’s the oldest Biden nominee to a district court? Pocan would’ve been older before he got blue slipped. I’m a little less bothered because at least he can go senior relatively quickly and there’s no shortage of lawyers in Chicago for elevation to CA7 if a vacancy arises.

    On Greenaway: him skipping senior status and retiring is a bit unusual. Anyone who thinks Biden is just going to ignore Menendez or Booker in selecting the replacement is deluding themselves. Menendez will probably try to sell the seat to the highest bidder to be honest, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he pushed for Christine O’Hearn or something. I also have very low expectations for Biden pushing back on whoever the senators suggest, but if he does, this process may get dragged out enough that I’d be concerned for this seat being filled before the 2024 election (if MD is anything to go by). I’d rather see even O’Hearn than some Fed Soc hack.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I could also see the administration elevating Quraishi as the first Muslim COA judge (even though there’s nothing progressive about his background and he could’ve been a Republican nominee if he weren’t Muslim).


  6. I too think this is a case where Biden has to put his foot down to ensure we get a decent nominee for this seat and not a Christine O’Hearn type in their late 50’s.
    I will say this vacancy needs to be filled sooner rather then later due to the fact that when Cindy Chung gets confirmed, the 3rd Circuit will be a split court.
    When Greenaway leaves, it will go back to a Republican majority for a time.
    Don’t want to let that linger too long.


  7. Somewhat off topic, but does anyone know what the deal is with Qraishi? I know he’s the first Muslim district judge but anyone have any insight into how he got 81 votes in the senate? I see where he worked for ICE so maybe he was perceived favorably by the right.


    • The opposition to Qraishi came from progressives, not conservatives. Actually many Muslim advocates groups came out against him. Had he been your regular run of the mill White make working for ICE, I suspect he would have gotten some no votes from Democrats. But we see what happened to the second Muslim federal judge once she’s finally confirmed so I guess Booker didn’t want a fire breathing liberal for the first.


    • Here’s the article explaining some of the issues some Muslim lawyers/legal orgs had with the Quraishi nomination: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/04/zahid-quraishi-muslim-federal-judge-criticism.html.

      I’m not sure how much those fears have been borne out in Quraishi’s time as a district judge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been at least somewhat conservative just because of his experiences. I think the ICE stuff is less of an issue because he was there for only a year, but whether he advised the military on how to legally torture the Abu Ghraib prisoners (and it’s unclear if that was the case) seems like a bigger issue.

      Wainer Apter would still be my preferred nominee, with Esther Salas as a second because of her PD background (54 isn’t that old for me for the COA, though maybe for district court). Wouldn’t be surprised by Pierre-Louis given her age and the administration’s focus on nominating Black women.


  8. Wanted to add a footnote about DeAndrea Benjamin and the judge she is replacing, Henry Floyd.
    While he was put on the courts under George W during his time on the 4th Circuit, he was the author that struck down VA’s ban on same sex marriage (among the worst in the nation) as well as the option letting trans students use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, and also opposed voter id laws.
    Should be noted that he was recommended for elevation by Lindsey Graham AND James Clyburn, the latter due to being a liberal/moderate Democrat and the former due to the fact that he was older, he was hoping Floyd would choose to take senior status sooner rather then later and thus his seat would flip back to being held by a conservative judge
    That flip won’t be happening and I look forward to seeing what Benjamin will do.
    Now if we can only get a replacement for the Maryland seat…


    • Senator Cardin should be ashamed of himself playing fire with the 4th Circuit vacancy. If the Dems had lost the midterms & I found out afterwards that the only reason we never got a nominee was because of a spat he was having over who he wanted to, I would have supported any primary opponent against him if he chooses to run again.

      If any of the 51 Democrat senators still don’t get how important the courts are & are willing to play Russian Roulette with a circuit court seat, let them retire & go to Las Vegas to gamble. Not with lifetime appointments to the bench.


      • Do we know why Cardin is putting his foot down? I know that Brad Garcia was open to taking any appellate vacancy which included the 4th Circuit and Federal Circuit.

        I think there’s plenty of time. I remember at the end of Clinton’s last term the was a food fight over a newly designated seat for 9th Circuit.

        That seat was eventually filled by George Bush who nominated Richard Clifton.


      • @shawnee68

        My guess is Cardin probably figures this is his last chance to put a judge on the 4th. The only other two Maryland seats are Obama appointee Pamela Harris who isn’t old enough to take senior status & 81-year-old Reagan appointee Paul V. Niemeyer. He probably would rather die in office then let Biden flip his seat.

        As for Brad Garcia, I too saw his SJC questionnaire state he applied for any appellate court. My guess is after the blowback Biden got for Childs & Pan (Both for how bad they were for that court & for passing on a Hispanic for 3 seats on the DC circuit), there was no way they were going to go a fourth straight seat without it being a Hispanic nominee. So since Brad Garcia was already vetted, liberal & extremely young, it was a win/win.


  9. So I’m guessing Benjamin is confirmed tomorrow and then on Thursday it’s Mendez Miri cloture in the morning followed by confirmation in the afternoon plus cloture for Chung? That would be solid


  10. Fooled again…I actually thought they were doing to do the cloture votes on Chung and Miro today..I figured they have to be in senate til they go over for the SOTU..

    But no…And the senate is not in Wed, so it will be a very short week


  11. I’m pretty annoyed they’re only confirming at best 2 circuit judges this week and that’s IF they don’t take Friday off.

    At least they’re off tomorrow, I thought McConnell was making them burn all of Wednesday debating the vote.

    I know once they have all 40 judicial nominees on their plate and all the committees have been confirmed they’ll approve them a lot faster but this is a terrible start and I’m usually the one defending senate democrats.


    • IF they don’t take Friday off??? Haaaaaaaa… That may be the funniest thing I’ve seen all year. They ain’t working this Friday, next Friday or any other Friday for the foreseeable future. They are saying to themselves the same thing too many people on this blog are saying, which is they got two years.

      Over a month has already passed & not one judge confirmed yet & only one SJC hearing. The end of the year will come & they will say they still have another year. Then the Summer of next year will come & they will say they have the rest of the year.

      It’s never how about we work hard first & then take it easy at the end. It’s always the opposite. I swear it’s no wonder the courts aren’t more conservative then they are today with this lack of urgency.


  12. I would say that Clare E. Connors will be the front runner, given other Obama nominees who have been given second bites of the apple under Biden.
    As far as Seabright goes, he appears to be a run of the mill judge and not a fire breather in any way so while this will be a flip, it won’t be a major one.


  13. This senators are so unserious, they barely work 3 days a week, what an awesome job to have. Already 1 month in and only one judge will be confirmed at the end of the first week of february, just so unserious and lackadaisical.

    I am counting down the hours until the judiciary committee hearing tomorrow, i cant wait to see the anguish and disgust and hopelessness on cruz and hawley in particular as abudu, ho and rikelman are all sent to the senate floor.

    I hope cruz saved up a nasty partisan diatribe speech for ho and abudu, then watch few seconds after as the all get voted out the committees.


  14. Watch them not even bother showing up. That might be more satisfying haha.

    But yeah, Ho, Rikelman, Abudu and everyone else will be headed to the floor shortly and I hope they all get prioritized for votes. Thank you John Fetterman (and CCM, Kelly, Warnock, etc)


  15. A few things…

    First, I thought Biden did outstanding at The State of the Union last night. I cringed at the beginning when he called Chuck Schumer the MINORITY leader & made an awkward joke. I thought I was about to watch a one hour botch-a-mania that just gave more doubts about voting for a man that would be 86 years old on the last day of his second term.

    NOPE. From that point on, Biden soared beyond my wildest expectations. The speech was optimistic, detailed & spoke to the middle class. He didn’t shy away from the hecklers & engaged them head on. The part when he got the Republicans to agree not to touch social security was must see TV, & this is was on a night where LeBron James broke the NBA scoring record. I was blown away. Now to see Biden come down to my home state of Florida right after the speech is a pleasant surprise.

    Second, today I will be closely watching the SJC site hoping to see a hearing scheduled for next Wednesday. I was disappointed there was not one today, however I’m even more disappointed the senate isn’t in session at all today. That’s after being off Monday & barely a half day yesterday with only one cloture vote.

    Third, tomorrow’s SJC executive meeting can’t come soon enough. For the first time in 8 years I will be able to watch a SJC meeting & not have to worry about how any of the Republicans vote. As long as every Democrat votes yes, the nominee advances to the floor clean.

    Lastly, we need another batch of nominees over the next week. If there is a SJC hearing next Wednesday with five nominees, assuming another hearing is held two weeks later, there will only be three nominees for it without Wamble & four nominees even with Wamble. At the very least Biden should be able to announce nominees for the Maryland 4th circuit & district court vacancies in California, New York, California, Colorado & any or all of the three in Michigan.


  16. Yup.
    We need another round of nominees soon.
    I do believe sans future judicial vacancies, all of the seats in CA,NY,CO have nominees.
    CT has two vacancies right now so I expect to see movement there as well.


  17. Nominations hearing set for next Wed 2/25. I’m guessing at least Almadani, Hsu, and Gaston. Will see if they can schedule Colom, as a sign of whether Hyde Smith returns her blue slip, or if Durbin will allow this nom to die. Unsure if Delaney will be ready for this one, or if he’ll stick with the group he was nominated with, in the next hearing.


  18. Tamika Montgomery-Reeves finally received her commission yesterday after being confirmed back in December. After Cindy Chung is confirmed next week, the 3rd circuit will be evenly spilt for the first time in some time. Hopefully Biden can name a replacement for Greenaway in relatively short order so Republican judges won’t have a one seat advantage for too long after he steps down on June 15th.


    • I wonder sometimes when it takes several months for judge to get his/her commission, maybe the judge seeks time off before starting new job, or they want to tie up loose ends at last employer, etc….I guess there could be several reasons why some judges get their commission in matter of days and others months down road


      • I would guess in almost all cases, extended time to get their commission is because they are finishing up a case. Particularly with the unpredictable time frame of when they will finally be confirmed. In some cases a judge that was confirmed first is passed up in seniority for another judge that is confirmed after them to the same court. I doubt any judge would want to be passed in seniority for a vacation. It would be interesting to speak to some that took a long time to get commissioned to find out why.


  19. Good catch on Montgomery Reeves. I was wondering what was going on there.

    I hope Delaney is in the meeting next week. No reason not to have him plus 4 district nominees on the docket.


    • I looked through the 38 (Including Wamble) Biden circuit court nominees to see what professional backgrounds have the most representation. That could possibly give us a clue on who will get heavy consideration for future vacancies.

      Federal defender – 8
      State Supreme Court justice – 3
      ACLU – 2
      Magistrate judge – 2
      US Attorney or Assistant US Attorney – 2
      American Constitution Society – 1
      Attorney General – 1
      Innocence Project – 1
      Law professor (At time of nomination) – 1
      NAACP – 1
      Solicitor General – 1
      Southern Poverty Law Center – 1
      Union Organization – 1


  20. Just getting to this nominee.


    This judge was completely done with all levels of his education before my parents were even out of high school.
    90-95% of cases are resolved in the district courts. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s fine to overlook or slacken your standards for any Article III judge/court. I wonder if all the recommendations and blue slip supports Durbin has given under Trump made him forget that a Dem president is now in office? I so look forward to getting to zero Durbin-type Dem senators.

    Isn’t it funny that we all expect Judge Seabright to be replace by an excellent progressive, while we’re chewing our fingers as we wait to see how bad the Menendez recommended replacement for Greenaway will be?


    • Oh, I just noticed that I didn’t include the reason for my grade. If it wasn’t obvious (and how can it not be?), the grade is mostly based on his advanced age.

      There is a whole legion of attorneys with the same legal and professional profile as Cummings who isn’t getting ready to go on retirement benefits. We need judges who’ll serve as long (or short, so what?) as they like as long as they can voluntarily step down at a time that doesn’t threaten their judicial life’s work, not judges who’ll give up the ghost or run out of steam during Republican control of anything.
      Dems need to continue to build muscle memories on youthful and vibrant judicial appointments. The quality/qualification is, of course, a given.


      • @Gavi

        I usually would give a similar grade for anybody born around 1962 as well. I’ll go a bit higher for Cummings & go with a C, maybe C+ in his case.

        He is a solid progressive. With him working along side Barack Obama at their law firm until he became a senator, I’m actually surprised he wasn’t nominated in one of the first three vacancies. Since Biden will get to put five judges in the court, I can give him a slight pass on somebody so closely aligned with his former boss when he was VP.

        I’m probably the most harsh on this blog when it comes to old judges for circuit court or blue state district court seats. I think in this case he’s probably the best Biden judge in his 60’s for the district courts so I’ll give him a slightly better grade.


      • For me, it’s about recognizing an ideal and sticking to it. The ideal in this case is not nominating old people to the bench. Trust me, there will always be something that someone will use to justify why this or that 60+ year old should be an exception. We either have a best practice standard or Swiss cheese.


      • Sad because had Obama nominated him then he would have been a A easily 8 plus years ago. But Obama’s seat went to a Republican (I still can’t believe that) so I guess with blue slips, Cummings in his early 50’s was out of the question.


  21. Have to agree with Gavi.
    I get an occasional nominee here or there in their late 50’s/early 60’s but we’ve seen far too many of them in blue states for my liking, this being the latest one.
    Yes it stinks some of them didn’t get a chance to be on the courts earlier but that’s life.
    We need to go younger when we can, whenever we can.
    Only older jurist I’ll overlook to a degree is Maria Kahn.
    Getting Jose Cabranes onto senior status will be worth it.
    While Kahn is more moderate then progressive, that is still world’s better then the hard social conservatism Cabranes subscribes to.


  22. I truly hope the spat over the 4th circuit vacancy is because Biden is pushing for a super good nominee. Somebody like Ajmel Quereshi would be amongst his best circuit court judges to date. I know he just became a magistrate judge last year but he would have been good enough for this seat even without the judgeship.


    • Whatever it is, I hope it is resolved sooner rather then later.
      It’s clear at this point the WV seat is likely going to flip down the line due to Judge Robert King being a selfish jerk, would hate to see Motz’s seat flip given that she took senior status under Biden to ensure a flip wouldn’t happen with her.


  23. John Fetterman had to go to the hospital so it’s unlikely he will be there tomorrow to vote on Benjamin.
    Sucks but it’s a reminder of why getting that seat mattered, as this won’t hurt us as it would before as much.
    (Still not good.)


    • Best wishes to senator Fetterman. Thank God the majority was able to expand by one. Also thankfully Governor Shapiro won in case anything happens & he can’t serve out his term.

      Between him, senator Casey, the age of many other senators & senators Manchin & Sinema both probably showing more independence as we near their re-elections, this just highlights why I am dead set against anybody that says we got two years so no need to rush the confirmations.


  24. Yup.
    I would have liked to see judicial confirmations much earlier, like in late January versus now but it is what it is.
    Here’s hoping we see several confirmations in the next couple of weeks and go from there.
    My hope is that they will have virtually all of the current nominees confirmed before Easter break.


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