She’s breathing rare air!
A former Chicago criminal defense lawyer is set to make history as the only Black person to currently serve as a Chicago Court of Appeals judge, the Chicago SunTimes reports.
Candace Rae Jackson-Akiwumi is a Chicago-based public defender who holds a degree from Princeton and Yale law school. She got her start as a clerk, working for retired U.S. District Court Judge David H. Coar, one of the few to make it on a short list of Black judges serving in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. From there, Jackson-Akiwumi worked as an associate in a Chicago law firm before joining the Federal Defender Program, eventually becoming partner for a D.C. based law firm where she served for the last year. Now, President Biden has nominated the veteran lawyer to sit on Chicago’s Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a historic move that would make Jackson-Akiwumi the second Black woman on the Seventh Circuit and the only person of color currently serving in the appellate court.
Jackson-Akiwumi was one of 11 judicial nominations by the Biden administration, cementing his commitment to diversify the federal bench. It is extremely rare for a criminal defense lawyer to sit on the bench, a trait that makes Jackson-Akiwumi stand out. Her nomination has been in the works since last December, nominated by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin and interviewing with the Whie House Counsel just four days after Biden was sworn in. Not only is she the second Black woman and the only person of color currently serving in the Seventh Circuit, according to the Alliance for Justice, she will also become “only the third federal appellate judge to have spent a majority of their career as a public defender.” The Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for Jackson-Akiwumi this week.
Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson sent a letter to the Committee in support of her nomination, saying, “[As] a federal public defender and a long-term resident of Chicago’s South SIde, Candace is also mindful and deliberative in applying her skills as a lawyer to facilitate fair decisions, engage in open dialogue, and positively impact those in underserved communities. Additionally, she displays great analytical and communication skills, an effortless rapport with her peers, and a profound respect and enthusiasm for human dignity and community development.”
Her nomination has also garnered support from the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc., and the National Council of Jewish Women.
Retired Judge Ann Clarie Williams, founder of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc. and the first and only judge of color to sit on the Seventh Circuit said Jackson-Akiwumi was instrumental within their group, “developing a pipeline program to promote and increase Black woman lawyer representation at large law firms.”
The Chicago lawyer has garnered a number of accomplishments, many of which she spolke about during her Judiciary Committee questionnaire.
“During my decade as a federal defender, I represented over 400 clients accused of federal crimes at every stage of the process, from investigation to trial and pre-trial proceedings, sentencing, and appeal, including petitions for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court,” Jackson-Akiwumi said.
She has also been a champion for justice reform, one of her biggest achievements coming by ending the practice of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives creation of phony drug stash houses which unfairly and disproportionately brought cases against Black and brown defendants.
No word yet on if or when Jackson-Akiwumi will be confirmed but we are cheering on the sidelines.
Photo Courtesy of CSPAN