Daines blocks judicial nominee with tribal, Interior ties

By Garrett Downs | 05/30/2024 04:06 PM EDT

Danna Jackson would have been Montana’s first Native American federal judge.

Danna Jackson.

President Joe Biden nominated Danna Jackson for a federal court seat in April. White House, iStock

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines blocked the nomination of a former Bureau of Land Management attorney who would have been the first Native American judge in the state’s history.

President Joe Biden in April nominated Danna Jackson, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, to the U.S. District Court in Montana.

Jackson previously served as a senior counselor to the BLM director and a senior counselor to the Interior assistant secretary for water and science.


Daines, who chairs the Senate Republican campaign arm, confirmed through a spokesperson that he blocked Jackson’s nomination because he wasn’t consulted.

“Senator Daines reviewed the applications of 15 individuals for the vacancy in Montana. Instead of working with Senator Daines to find a nominee that could gain bipartisan support, the Biden White House never sought his advice or consent before choosing their nominee,” Daines’ spokesperson Rachel Dumke said in a statement. “For all of these reasons, Senator Daines did not return Danna Jackson’s blue slip.”

Dumke added that 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.”

Daines’ move was first reported by Bloomberg Law.

The White House blasted Daines for blocking Jackson, denying his assertions that he was not consulted and alleging the senator refused to meet with her.

“As Senator Daines knows, his own team interviewed Danna Jackson more than six months ago. Senator Daines himself has refused to meet with Ms. Jackson,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told E&E News.

“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, who would make history as Montana’s first Native American federal judge,” Bates added.

The blue slip process is a Senate tradition that allows senators to provide their opinion on judicial nominees for their home states. Prior to 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee would not move on a circuit or district judge nomination without two positive blue slips.

The Senate largely abandoned the tradition for circuit court judges during the Trump administration, moving more than 20 such nominees without the support of both home-state senators. But the upper chamber still honors the tradition for district judges — meaning Daines has effectively blocked Jackson from the bench.

Josh Sorbe, a spokesperson for Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) declined to comment, deferring to the White House and Daines’ office.

Montana’s senior senator, Jon Tester, a Democrat in a tough reelection battle, supported Jackson’s nomination.

“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 April.

Native American voters make up a crucial bloc of Tester’s support that has delivered him a Senate seat three times. Native American groups strongly supported Jackson’s nomination.