U.S. Supreme Court

These 2 judges are considered front-runners to replace Breyer; who else is getting mentioned?

  • Print

AP Breyer retirement 3

Possible picks for the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Graphic by the Associated Press.

Two judges are considered front-runners to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, but they aren’t the only contenders.

President Joe Biden has pledged to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden stands by his promise.

That puts these two women at the top of many lists of likely replacements:

• U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. NPR called her “a hot prospect for nomination to the Supreme Court” after her June 2021 confirmation to the appeals court. And Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog said Biden is more likely to nominate Jackson than the other frequently mentioned contender, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson headshot U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. File photo from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Goldstein thinks that Jackson’s recent confirmation to the D.C. Circuit makes it likely that any Supreme Court confirmation process would go smoothly.

Jackson became a federal district judge in 2013. According to NPR, she was known on the trial bench “for her long hours of work, a vivid writing style and her infectious and raucous laugh.”

She is a graduate of Harvard Law School who formerly clerked for Breyer. She has worked as an assistant public defender and as of counsel at Morrison & Foerster.

Jackson also was vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission when it adopted guidelines cutting sentences for many federal drug offenders. According to Vox, that means that Jackson “will likely be a favorite of criminal justice reformers.”

As a judge, Jackson ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with a House subpoena and ordered release of White House documents over the objection of former President Donald Trump, report CNN and the New York Times.

Jackson has two daughters and is married to a surgeon who is the twin brother of former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s brother-in-law.

Justice Leondra Kruger headshotCalifornia Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger. Photo from the Judicial Council of California.

• California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, 45, a former clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens. She argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court when she was worked in the U.S. solicitor general’s office during the Obama administration. She also was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

At the Supreme Court lectern, SCOTUSblog reports, “Kruger’s tone with the justices was conversational from the start, with a quiet confidence. She was poised even when she was being peppered with questions from all sides of the bench.”

Kruger is a graduate of Yale Law School, where she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, SCOTUSblog reports. She worked as a summer associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson, as an associate at Jenner & Block, and as an associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

According to SCOTUSblog, many of the decisions that Kruger wrote or joined on the California Supreme Court mostly had “liberal-leaning results.” Vox said the California Supreme Court was dominated by Republican appointees when Kruger joined the court, and Kruger gained a reputation as a “moderate incrementalist.”

Kruger has two children and is married to a partner at Jenner & Block.

Other people who are getting mentioned as possible nominees are:

• Vice President Kamala Harris. According to the Daily Beast, Fox News ran “wild with unfounded speculation” that Harris could get the nomination. During a news briefing Wednesday, a reporter asked Psaki whether there was any scenario in which Harris would get the nomination. She did not answer the question. (The Daily Beast, YouTube, Politico)

• U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs of the District of South Carolina, described as a “long shot” by Vox. Childs is a federal district judge backed by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, the House majority whip and a Democrat of South Carolina. Childs’ current nomination to U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is pending. She is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law and a former state judge. (Vox, CNN, the New York Times, Politico)

• Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who was confirmed in June 2021 to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago, according to Law.com. She is a former public defender and former partner at Zuckerman Spaeder. (CNN, Vox)

• U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright of Minnesota, who formerly served on Minnesota’s supreme and appellate courts, according to MinnPost. She is a Harvard Law School graduate and a former federal prosecutor.(CNN)

• Judge Eunice Lee of the 2nd Circuit at New York, who was confirmed in August 2021, according to Reuters. She is a Yale Law School graduate and a former federal public defender. (CNN, Vox)

• Sherrilyn Ifill, who is stepping down as president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Ifill is a graduate of the New York University School of Law and a former law professor at the University of Maryland. (CNN, Politico, prior ABA Journal coverage)

• U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner of the Middle District of Georgia, who is a Yale Law School graduate, a former federal prosecutor and a former lawyer with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. Gardner is the sister of Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully to be the governor of Georgia in 2018 and is running for governor again in 2022. (Politico, prior ABA Journal coverage)

• Holly A. Thomas, recently confirmed to the 9th Circuit at San Francisco. She is a Yale Law School graduate and a former state court judge in Los Angeles. She has also worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. (The Associated Press)

The liberal group Demand Justice has a “Supreme Court Shortlist,” which is available here.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Biden’s first judicial picks include DC Circuit nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, said to be SCOTUS contender”

ABAJournal.com: “Can the nation endure? Breyer waxes philosophical in retirement press conference; Biden sets timetable”

Updated Jan. 28 at 9:30 a.m. to add Holly A. Thomas to the list.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.