Biden nominates federal public defender to be the first woman of color on the appellate court based in Philadelphia
Arianna J. Freeman, if confirmed, would join an appellate bench that oversees cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands.
President Joe Biden has nominated a veteran public defender, Arianna J. Freeman, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where she would be the first woman of color to sit on an appellate bench that oversees cases for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands.
Freeman is a managing attorney with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, a job she has held since 2016, according to the White House. After her nomination Wednesday, she would need to be confirmed by the Senate.
The White House and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) each noted the groundbreaking nature of her nomination.
“Ms. Freeman is a highly qualified nominee,” Casey said in a statement. “Her extensive legal experience and keen intellect, combined with her deep commitment to the community and to the principles of fairness and equal justice, will serve the Third Circuit well. This is a historic nomination, not only for Pennsylvania, but for the entire Third Circuit.”
An aide for Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said his office was consulted, “but our input was rejected.”
Freeman did not return requests for comment Wednesday on her nomination.
Along with being the first woman of color, she would join two other women still serving full time on the 14-person, Philadelphia-based bench. Biden nominated her to fill the spot of Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee, who announced last year he would take senior status, a form of semiretirement for judges.
With two remaining positions on the court to fill, including that of Chief Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith, Biden has the opportunity to evenly balance the court between judges appointed under Democratic and Republican administrations.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond professor who closely follows federal court nominations, said Freeman “is a highly qualified, very experienced, mainstream nominee.”
“Experiential diversity is particularly important on the federal appellate bench, which includes many former prosecutors and lawyers who practiced at large law firms, because that diversity improves decision making and public respect for the federal courts,” Tobias wrote in an email.
Freeman clerked for Judges C. Darnell Jones II and James T. Giles, both on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, according to the White House. She has degrees from Yale Law School and Swarthmore College.
She joined the Federal Community Defender Office in 2009. As managing attorney of an appellate unit, she has led a team of lawyers representing federal inmates challenging the legality of their convictions and sentences.
Last year, their work led to the exoneration of Curtis Crosland, who served 34 years of a life sentence after he was convicted of the 1984 murder of a South Philadelphia shopkeeper based on the statements of only two witnesses, who either recanted or failed to appear in court.
“We cannot imagine a better nominee,” said Leigh M. Skipper, the chief federal defender for the region, in a statement. “Our office and those we serve have benefitted from Ms. Freeman’s intellect, experience, judgment, sound counsel and collegiality. We wish Ms. Freeman the best in the confirmation process.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the current makeup of the Third Circuit. There are seven circuit judges nominated by Republican presidents, four nominated by Democrats and three announced vacancies.