Bernice B. Donald, a district court judge in Memphis, has been nominated to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Supreme Court nominations are widely covered and discussed in the United States, but it’s really the lower courts that are handing down the vast majority of legal decisions. Federal courts of appeal are of particular importance, because they’re right below the Supreme Court in terms of power and influence (their decisions are binding upon lower courts in their circuits), but they hear and decide many, many more cases than the Supreme Court does. Their decisions shape the law of the land in incredibly important ways. And the influence of circuit courts has not been lost on Republican presidents, who have nominated large numbers of conservative judges to the bench. If Obama wants to have a lasting impact on the legal landscape of the United States, one of the best things he can do is focus on the federal courts of appeal and nominate the best, most fair-minded judges possible.
And Judge Donald is a good pick. She’s a former public defender, which means that she acted as a criminal defense attorney for defendants who couldn’t afford their own lawyer (it also means that she’s seen the hurdles that indigent criminal defendants face, which is certainly valuable experience for a judge). She was Tennessee’s first black female district court judge, and has made it a personal goal to foster diversity among her staff and in the legal profession generally.
Diane Lucas, who is an attorney in New York and an occasional Feministe guest-blogger, clerked for Judge Donald and sent me this story, with the comment that “Judge Donald is an amazing judge who truly is bringing justice in our federal courts. She has been a staunch advocate for the rights of women and people of color, and I am so happy she is ‘moving on up’.”
Indeed. Congrats Judge Donald, and good luck.