DemDaily: Biden’s Bench

May 28, 2024

Last Wednesday marked the confirmation of President Joe Biden's 200th lifetime judicial appointment, delivering on his promise to set records for reshaping the federal bench "to reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country."

The slate of judicial appointments represents the most disparate in history, both in ethnicity and professional background. This stands in stark contrast to the Trump-era appointments that packed the courts with young right-wing judges who were mostly white and male.

Article III of the Constitution governs the appointment, tenure, and payment of Supreme Court, federal circuit and district judges. The judges, often referred to as “Article III Judges,” are nominated by the president and confirmed by the US Senate.

Biden reached the milestone about a month earlier than Donald Trump did in his term, despite entering office with far fewer vacancies to fill than the former president -- who appointed 234 judges in office.

Trump's impact on the judiciary, however, looms much larger than recent administrations, having confirmed three conservatives to the Supreme Court -- radically transforming the federal courts and indelibly shifting the political discourse of the country.

The road to confirming the current 42 judicial vacancies, however, is not without obstacles.

More than half of those are in states with two Republican US Senators. Under a long-standing Senate tradition, district court nominees may be vetoed by their home-state senators.

The specter of national politics always hangs over the narrowly divided 51-49 Senate, as with the fight over Adeel Mangi's nomination to serve as a US Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in New Jersey. Mangi, a veteran litigator who was unanimously rated “well qualified” by the American Bar Association, has broad public support, including from national Jewish organizations.

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “In a new low, some of my Republican colleagues have gone so far as to falsely claim that a historic nominee, who would be the first Muslim American to serve on the federal appellate court, is antisemitic and anti-law enforcement...these bigoted attacks are false and should not stand.”

The Federal Court System
The US Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal system, with ultimate and largely discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law. Three of the court's nine justices were confirmed under the Trump administration, resulting in a 6-3 conservative majority.

Among Biden's crowning achievements is the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was sworn in on June 30, 2022 as the first Black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court.

The US Court of Appeals comprises the intermediate appellate courts that serve as the final arbiter on most federal cases. They are divided into 13 regional Circuit Courts, each composed of a three-judge panel, which hears both civil and criminal appeals from the district courts within their jurisdiction.

US District Courts are the trial courts of the federal system with 94 judicial districts in 50 states and territories. Each district includes a US bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court and four US territories have district courts that hear federal cases.

There are also two special trial courts: The Court of International Trade, which addresses cases involving trade and customs laws, and the Court of Federal Claims, which deals with claims for money damages against the US government.

201 confirmed Article III judges: One US Supreme Court justice, 42 circuit court judges, 156 district court judges, and two judges to the US Court of International Trade.

By The Numbers
The Article III judges confirmed under the Biden Administration:
• 127 women (nearly two-thirds of all lifetime confirmations), including 79 women of color
• 125 people of color
• 58 Black judges (nearly 30 percent of all lifetime confirmations), including 37 Black women. President Biden has appointed more Black women to federal circuit courts (13) than all previous presidents combined (8)
• 35 Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders -- more than any other administration
• 11 Openly LGBTQ judges -- tying President Obama’s record
• 2 Judges with Disabilities

Biden and the Democratic-controlled US Senate have also delivered on their commitment to nominate individuals of professional diversity, adding, as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said, "to the breadth and width and depth of knowledge possessed by the courts.”

More than 40% of the confirmed judges have dedicated a significant portion of their careers to protecting civil and human rights. More public defenders have been confirmed as circuit judges than under all prior Presidents combined.

Firsts: Among the many unprecedented confirmations: District Court Judge Zahid Quraishi the first Muslim to sit on a federal district bench; Judge Beth Robinson, the first openly LGBTQ woman judge on any federal appeals court; Lucy Koh, the first Korean American woman on a federal appeals court; Cindy Chung; the first AAPI judge to serve on the Third Circuit.

Other groundbreaking confirmations: Roopali Desai; the first judge of South Asian descent for the Ninth Circuit; Ana Reyes, the first openly LGBTQ+ and first Hispanic woman to serve on the DC District Court; District Judge Sunshine Sykes, the first Native American Article III judge in California and Daniel Calabretta, the first openly LGBTQ judge to serve in the Eastern District of California.

Pending: Of the current 27 pending nominees, 10 are waiting for floor votes, five are waiting to be reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 12 are waiting for hearings before the Committee.

"Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water." - President Joe Biden

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: White House, Alliance for Justice, LCCR, American Constitution Society, Reuters, Democracy Docket, CBS

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