Obama Nominates Prominent Black Judge for Key Court

Judge Robert L. Wilkins is one of three nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Posted: 06/04/2013 01:24 PM EDT
Barack Obama Nominating Robert Wilkins

President Obama on Tuesday nominated Judge Robert L. Wilkins to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is widely considered to be the nation's second-most important court.

"This is the second time I’ve called on Judge Robert Wilkins to serve — because in 2010, I nominated Robert to the D.C. District Court, and the Senate confirmed him without opposition," Obama said in remarks delivered from the White House Rose Garden. "And throughout his career, Robert has distinguished himself as a principled attorney of the utmost integrity.” 

Wilkins has worked as a public defender and in private practice and helped establish the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also was the plaintiff in Wilkins vs. Maryland State Police Department, a landmark case that helped coin the term "driving while Black."

In the coming weeks, Wilkins will make new headlines as the sentencing judge who will determine the fates of former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi, who struck a plea bargain with federal officials in February after being charged with the misuse of $750,000 in campaign funds.

Wilkins is one of three people the president nominated to serve on the appeals court. The two other picks include Cornelia T. L. Pillard, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, and Washington appeals lawyer Patricia Ann Millett.

The move is almost guaranteed to draw opposition from congressional Republicans, who've accused the president of trying to "stack the court."

Filling the three vacancies on the 11-member court will enable Obama to leave his mark. Republican senators are pushing a proposal to transfer the slots to other courts around the country, which Obama said Tuesday "makes no sense."

"When a Republican was president, 11 judges on the D.C. Circuit Court made complete sense. Now that a Democrat is president, it apparently doesn't. Eight is suddenly enough," he said, eliciting laughter from the audience. "People are laughing because it's obviously a blatant political move."

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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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