A longtime public defender and judge, Judge Kai Scott’s background appears tailor-made for a federal appointment by the Biden Administration.
The 51-year-old Scott received her B.A. degree from Hampton University in 1991 and a J.D. from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1995. She then spent two years as a law clerk for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers Compensation.
In 1998, Scott joined the Defender Association of Philadelphia. In 2004, Scott moved to become a federal public defender. In 2010, Scott became the Trial Unit Chief of the Federal Community Defender’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
In 2015, Scott was elected to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas as a Democrat, where she currently serves.
History of the Seat
Scott has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This seat opened on March 15, 2021, when Judge C. Darnell Jones moved to senior status.
Before she became a judge, Scott spent her entire legal career as a public defender representing indigent clients, first in the state and then in the federal system. Among her notable clients, Scott represented Theodore Woodson, who plead guilty of having sex with multiple inmates while serving as a jail worker. See Jim Smith, Jail Worker Guilty of Sex With Inmates; Jersey Man Worked at Federal Center, Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 23, 2005. She also represented Michael King, who was convicted for robbing five banks. Jim Smith, Mentally Ill Druggie Gets 70 Months For Bank Holdups, Philadelphia Daily News, Sept. 8, 2005. A later representation involved John Benjamin Desper, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for soliciting sexually explicit images of minors over the internet. Michael Hinkelman, Child-Sex Offender Sentenced to 25 Years, Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 9, 2010.
From 2015, Scott has served as a Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, which is the primary trial court in Pennsylvania. As a Judge, Scott presides over cases in civil and criminal matters, as well as domestic relations, juvenile, and family law matters.
Notably, Scott granted a motion to suppress drugs recovered from Tyree Carroll, ruling that officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Carroll simply because he was repeatedly riding his bicycle in an area known for drug sales. See Robert Moran, Judge Rules in Favor of Man in Violent 2015 Arrest, Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 17, 2017. Carroll’s subsequent arrest was captured in a viral video that appeared to show the officers beating and kicking him. See id.
Scott ran for the bench as a Democrat and has given to the Pennsylvania Democratic party.
Writings and Statements
In 2019, Scott was interviewed (alongside fellow judicial nominee and judge Mia Perez) in an article discussing African American vernacular creating issues with court transcripts and records. See Cassie Owens, Hearing What’s Really Said in Court: Lawyers, Judges Discuss African American English and How Not Understanding It Can Defeat Justice, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2019. In the article, Scott, who is described as “fluent in African-American English” noted that it’s difficult for judges to step in to clarify linguistic misunderstandings without appearing to influence the jury. See id.
Both as a public defender and as a judge, Scott’s record shows a willingness to hold law enforcement to account. While she has the support of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Scott is nonetheless likely to draw opposition in the Senate. However, she will likely still be confirmed before the end of the Congress.