Biden nominates Danna Jackson to Montana federal judgeship (2024)

President Joe Biden has nominated Montana attorney Danna Jackson to the U.S. District Court in Montana.

If confirmed, Jackson would take the federal bench to replace Judge Dana Christensen, who in late 2022 announced he was taking senior status.

Jackson, a first-generation Kootenaidescendant, would be the first Native American to serve as a federal judge in Montana.

A tribal attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Jackson was former chief legal counsel to the Montana Department of Natural Resources from 2016 to 2021 following six years as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Biden nominates Danna Jackson to Montana federal judgeship (1)

Following her time with the Montana DNRC, Jackson worked at the U.S. Department of the Interior as senior counselor to the director of Bureau of Land Management and then senior counselor to the assistant secretary for water and science from 2021 to 2023.

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A notice from DOI in 2021 states she had spent her entire legal career in the natural resources and Indian law arenas. It notes she grew up on a cattle ranch on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Jackson has been counsel to the CSKT in Pablo since 2023. She received her law degree from the University of Montana in 1996.

"I work alongside Ivy Leaguers who ain’t got nothing on a Griz," she wrote in an alumni spotlight with the University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law in May 2021.

Jackson, at the time a senior counselor to the Bureau of Land Management director, said she is unique as a lawyer who has both litigated and served in policy positions.

CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Michael Dolson released a statement on the nomination through a spokesperson:

"We have followed Danna throughout her career — and as a CSKT descendant who hales from our community, we are very proud of her accomplishments," Dolson said Wednesday. "Danna brings considerable expertise and depth of knowledge to her work in the legal system, and is an excellent candidate for the federal bench. We are glad for her nomination and support her confirmation."

Biden announced Jackson as a nominee Wednesday among six others.

A White House release provided early to the Montana State News Bureau states the nominees reflect Biden’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity of the nation. This will be the 48th round of nominees Biden has made to the federal bench, bringing the total of federal judicial nominees to 236. As of April 10, 193 of those nominees have been confirmed.

Democratic U.S. Sen. JonTester on Wednesday applauded Jackson's nomination and said he'd work to confirm the nominee.

"Danna Jackson has a proven track record of applying the law with fairness and integrity throughout her legal career, and I have no doubt that she’ll bring these high standards to the federal judiciary and District of Montana," he said in a statement. "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."

Montana's Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines blasted Biden for failing to confer with his office prior to Wednesday's announcement, but refrained from making an immediate judgement call on Jackson's qualifications.

"Federal judges in Montana are crushing our way of life because they legislate from the bench," Daines said in a statement. "Montanans want judges who will bring balance to our courts and uphold the Constitution. Unfortunately, President Biden failed to seriously consult with me prior to making this nomination. This is inexcusable and a missed opportunity. I look forward to reviewing Ms. Jackson’s background and record to evaluate if this nomination is the right fit for Montana."

It’s an election year, and the path to Jackson’s confirmation will be through a tightly wound U.S. Senate with a thin Democratic majority and a GOP focused on reclaiming the chamber. Montana’s two senators occupy seats on either side of the partisan aisle, presenting a potential split in support for advancing a Democratic president’s nominee through the upper chamber.

Tester in 2023 supported Montanan Anthony Johnstone's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, while Daines opposed the appointment.

Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond School of Law taught for 20 years at the University of Montana and remembered Jackson among the ranks of law school students.

"I know she made an impact on people when she was at the law school and the work she's done since then has just been incredible," he said.

Natural resources, public lands and American Indian law combine for a potent background on issues specific to Montana's federal courts, Tobias added, particularly federal land policy in the state and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

'Clear victory': Tribes in Montana celebrate ICWA ruling

“The positive impact of today’s decision will be felt across generations,” the Protect ICWA Campaign said in a statement.

"All of those things will be important," Tobias said. "She'll appreciate what happens at the interior department, or the (Bureau of Indian Affairs), or BLM, which holds a lot of land in Montana."

The National Congress of American Indians, the Native American Rights Fund and the National Native American Bar Associationall heraldedJackson's nomination Wednesday.

The threeorganizations have long advocated for better representation of Native communities in the federal court system.NARF said Jackson is the fifth Native American Biden has nominated to a federal judgeship.

"Danna Jackson has a long track record of public service, extensive federal legal experience, and is well qualified to be a federal judge," Native American Rights Fund Executive Director John Echohawk said in an emailed statement. "We commend the Biden Administration’s selection of this historic nominee and exhort her confirmation. She will be a strong addition to the federal judiciary in Montana."

Jackson's confirmation process may unearth some of Jackson's work in policy arenas that senators may find objectionable, Tobias said, but in large part the Senate Judiciary Committee and the upper chamber at large will likely look to the nominee's home state senators for their cue.

Tobias said Jackson's hearing to be vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee could be as early as next month.

"It could happen this summer," he added. "There are very few nominees ahead of her.… I'm cautiously optimistic that could happen, or in any event it could happen in June."

Christensen, who is based in Missoula, had served as chief judge of the federal courts in Montana from 2013 to 2020. Judge Brian Morris, in Great Falls, has held that title in the four years since. Christensen and Morris were both nominated by former President Barack Obama.

Biden nominates Danna Jackson to Montana federal judgeship (3)

Seaborn Larson has worked for the Montana State News Bureau since 2020. His past work includes local crime and courts reporting at the Missoulian and Great Falls Tribune, and daily news reporting at the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell.



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