DemDaily: Biden’s Bench

February 16, 2023 

This week marked the confirmation of President Joe Biden's 100th judicial appointment, with seven more confirmed since Tuesday.

As promised, Biden has set records for reshaping the federal bench "to reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country," including the nation's first African American female Supreme Court justice.

The slate of judicial appointments represents the most diverse in history, both in ethnicity and professional background, countering 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.

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. The last three 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.

Of the 30 Circuit Court judges so far confirmed under Biden, 23 are women, including 18 women of color.

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.

Of Biden's confirmed 73 District Court judges and two Federal Claims Court judges, 55 are women, including 37 women of color, and 15 are men of color.

76% of the Article III judges confirmed under the Biden Administration have been women, and 68% have been people of color. That includes 12 Black women confirmed to the federal circuit courts -- more than all other Presidents combined.

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.”

That includes the addition of 30 public defenders and 17 civil rights lawyers to the federal bench.

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; and Lucy Koh, the first Korean American woman on a federal appeals court.

Cindy Chung became the first AAPI judge to serve on the Third Circuit, Roopali Desai is 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, and District Judge Sunshine Sykes, the first Native American Article III judge in California. Daniel Calabretta was confirmed today as the first openly LGBTQ judge to serve in the Eastern District of California.

Pending: There are 45 nominations awaiting Senate action and an additional 113 federal judicial vacancies.

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: USCourts.gov, White House, Alliance for Justice, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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