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Biden taps CSKT attorney Danna Jackson for U.S. District Court judgeship

by ARREN KIMBEL-SANNIT Montana Free Press
| April 30, 2024 12:00 AM

President Joe Biden has tapped an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to replace Judge Dana Christensen in the U.S. District Court of Montana.

Danna Jackson, a former U.S. attorney who served as chief legal counsel to the Montana Department of Natural Resources from 2016 to 2021, would be the first Native American federal judge in Montana if her nomination is confirmed. She worked as an attorney within the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2021 to 2023. 

Christensen, who was appointed to Montana’s federal court by then-President Barack Obama in 2011, announced in 2022 that he would assume senior status, a form of semi-retirement for judges. 

Jackson, who grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation, has spent the bulk of her career focused on tribal law and natural resource issues. 

Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, lauded Jackson’s nomination in a statement. 

“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 this week. “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’s counterpart, Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, did not directly criticize Jackson, but complained in a statement that Biden did not “seriously” confer with him about the nomination.

“Montanans want judges who will bring balance to our courts and uphold the Constitution,” Daines said. “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.” 

Traditionally, senators from the state where a federal judge is being nominated are given the opportunity to weigh in on the nomination ahead of the confirmation process in the form of “blue slips.” The Senate Judiciary Committee, in theory, takes the positions of home-state senators into account when deciding whether to recommend confirmation to the full Senate. 

Depending on the length of the confirmation period and the outcome of the November election, it’s possible that Tester’s Republican opponent, Gallatin County businessman Tim Sheehy, would be in a position to vote on the nomination. 

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is a reporter for the Montana Free Press, a Helena-based nonprofit newsroom, and can be reached at akimbel@montanafreepress.org.