Republican blocks confirmation of first Native American federal judge for Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker from Montana blocked a Biden administration judicial nominee who would have been the state's first Native American federal district court judge, officials said Wednesday.

Attorney Danna Jackson with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes had been nominated last month by President Joe Biden. The post requires Senate confirmation.

Sen. Steve Daines blocked Jackson from consideration because the administration never sought his consent prior to her nomination, said Rachel Dumke, a spokesperson for the lawmaker.

“Senator 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,” Dumke said in an emailed statement.

A White House spokesperson refuted Dumke's assertion and said members of Daines’ team had interviewed Jackson last year but that the senator refused to meet with her.

“This claimed lack of consultation seems to be little more than pretext, and it’s shameful that Senator Daines is depriving Montana of the talents of a principled, fair, and impartial jurist like Danna Jackson,” said Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates.

Daines' opposition was earlier reported by Bloomberg Law.

The overwhelming majority of federal judges are white men, according to the American Bar Association.

Out of more than 1,400 federal judges as of late last year, only four were Native American and two others identified as partially Native, according to the association. That’s less than 1% of federal judges, whereas Native Americans make up almost 3% of the U.S. population.

Jackson did not immediately respond to a voice message seeking comment left with the Salish and Kootenai legal department.

She previously served as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Interior and as chief legal counsel for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Her nomination was supported by Montana's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Jon Tester, and representatives of the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund. Tester said Jackson was well qualified.

The Senate last week confirmed the 200th federal judge of Biden’s tenure, about a month earlier than when former President Donald Trump hit that mark in his term.