Biden nominates SC Judge Jacquelyn Austin to succeed Michelle Childs on federal bench

President Joe Biden is nominating federal Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn Austin of Greenville to become the next U.S. District Court judge in South Carolina, the White House announced.

If confirmed, Austin would fill the post left vacant by Michelle Childs, who was actively considered for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and now sits on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Austin would fill the last remaining vacancy among the court’s 10 judgeships in South Carolina.

The announcement is one of five judicial nominees rolled out for U.S. courts nationally by the White House on Nov. 1. In this latest slate of nominations, four of Biden’s picks are women, including three women of color. Two are Black women.

Former Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is now a senior advisor to the president, praised Biden’s decision to nominate Austin.

“The president has already seen the confirmation of 32 Black women to lifetime judgeships — more than any single administration in history,” Benjamin said in the statement provided to The Post and Courier.

“Today’s announcement includes two more Black women in Southern states — with bipartisan backing — both of whom are exceptionally well-qualified and ready to hit the ground running once confirmed,” he added.

The four other nominees announced were for federal judgeships in in Florida.

Austin is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and the USC School of Law. Before pursuing her law degree, she obtained a degree in electrical engineering.

Austin has been a magistrate judge since 2011. Before that, she worked in private practice for 12 years as a business litigation lawyer with Womble Carlyle in Greenville, where she was a partner from 2006 to 2011. She also previously worked as an associate at Hardaway Law Firm from 1997 to 1999.

In 1996, Austin worked for a year as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Matthew Perry Jr.

That clerkship would be a formative experience for Austin. In a summer 2012 edition of “Defense Line,” a trade publication for the S.C. Defense Trial Attorneys’ Association, Austin described Perry as the person who had the biggest influence on her legal career.

As a young attorney, Perry defended civil rights activists in the 1960s and was at the center of many cases that led to the integration of South Carolina’s public schools, colleges, hospitals, state parks, golf courses, restaurants and beaches.

He successfully litigated the integration of Clemson University in 1963 when Harvey B. Gantt was denied admission to the school based on race. Gantt successfully enrolled and graduated.

In 1979, Perry became the first African American appointed a U.S. district judge in South Carolina. 

“Judge Perry was the consummate example of hard work, thoughtfulness, graciousness, humility and humor,” Austin told “Defense Line” in 2012. “Judge Perry loved the law, loved lawyers, and found it his duty to make sure everyone had a fair day in his court. I hope to emulate all that he stood for in my career.”

Austin’s nomination comes amid a continued push by the Biden administration to add more diversity to the federal bench, both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds. To accomplish this, Biden has put a particular focus on nominating more women and women of color to the courts.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 148 federal judges nominated by Biden, according to the American Constitution Society. 

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