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Daines Holds Up Native American Nomination For Federal Judge

U.S. Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana is blocking the nomination of a lawyer who, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Native American to serve as a federal judge in the state.

Daines objected to the White House’s nomination of Danna Jackson, a tribal attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Pablo, Montana, because the Biden administration did not consult with him prior to her nomination, Rachel Dumke, a spokesperson for Daines, said in an email to States Newsroom.

Daines did not return his “blue slip” on Jackson’s nomination to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The slip is given to senators of the same state as a federal judicial nominee so they can express an opinion about the nomination.

In the Senate, it’s a long-standing tradition for both senators to agree on a judicial nominee before moving forward with the confirmation process. Daines’ objection to Jackson’s nomination was first reported by Bloomberg Law.

“Sen. Daines believes confirming federal judges with lifetime tenure is among the most important decisions he will make and that these individuals must be trusted to not legislate from the bench and protect the Montana way of life,” Dumke said.

However, the White House pushed back on Daines’ objections.

Daines’ team interviewed Jackson six months ago, but Daines refused to meet with her, White House senior deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in an email to States Newsroom.

“This claimed lack of consultation seems to be little more than pretext, and it’s shameful that Sen. Daines is depriving Montana of the talents of a principled, fair, and impartial jurist like Danna Jackson, who would make history as Montana’s first Native American federal judge,” Bates said.

Nominated in April

The White House announced her nomination on April 24. Jackson did not appear during Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearings on May 22.

A spokesperson for the committee deferred to the White House and Daines’ office on Jackson’s “consultation process, as that’s between them.”

Jackson did not respond Thursday, May 30, to a voice mail message left with the legal office for the Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Judicial nominees usually do not talk to the media.

Following her nomination, Jackson had the support of Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

“As a born-and-raised Montanan, her extensive experience at every level of Montana’s legal system makes her well qualified to serve our state and I’m looking forward to getting her nomination across the finish line with bipartisan support in the Senate,” Tester said in a statement in late April.

Legal Experience

Jackson previously worked at the U.S. Department of the Interior as a senior counselor to the director of the Bureau of Land Management.

She also worked as the chief legal counsel at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in Helena, Montana, and as an assistant U.S. attorney and tribal liaison in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana.

According to her biography from the White House, Jackson also worked as a counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP from 2005 to 2010, after serving as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate from 2002 to 2005 and a staff attorney at the National Indian Gaming Commission from 2000 to 2002.

She received her bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Montana.

The Biden administration has worked to boost a diverse judiciary bench, appointing 201 federal judges as of last week.

There are four federal judges who are Native American and two who identify as partly Native American, according to the American Bar Association. Those judges represent four-tenths of 1 percent of federal judges, according to the ABA.

“But there is still more work to be done, and President Biden remains steadfast in his commitment to nominate and appoint individuals who have excelled in their professional careers, who reflect the communities they serve, and who apply the law impartially and without favoritism,” the White House said in a statement following the milestone of a 200th federal judge confirmation.

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