President Joe Biden hit a milestone on Tuesday that he’ll certainly be touting on the campaign trail: He’s put 150 people into lifetime federal judgeships – and of those, 100 are women and 98 are people of color.
It’s a solid number of Article III judges to be confirmed by this point in a presidency — these judges get lifetime appointments and serve on district courts, appeals courts and the Supreme Court. But Biden is no longer breaking records with his pace of confirmations. By this time in his predecessors’ presidencies, Donald Trump had confirmed 159 Article III judges, Barack Obama was at 115, George W. Bush was at 167 and Bill Clinton was at 164.
The White House acknowledged that it’s fallen behind Trump’s pace of judicial confirmations, but hailed the benchmark all the same. Senior officials gave credit to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for ushering through so many of Biden’s court picks.
“Working closely with Leader Schumer and Judiciary Chair Durbin, the Biden-Harris administration has made enormous strides when it comes to the appointment of Article III judges, nearly matching the confirmation pace of the Trump-Pence administration despite inheriting far fewer judicial vacancies,” reads a Tuesday memo released by White House counsel Ed Siskel, Office of Legislative Affairs Director Shuwanza Goff and Office of Public Engagement Director Stephen Benjamin.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and expert on federal judicial nominations, noted that Biden has four appeals court nominees awaiting Senate confirmation votes, one of which will come next week and the others soon after. That’s in addition to the Senate voting on more district court nominees this week.
Biden is “likely to equal or surpass Trump by his term’s end,” Tobias speculated. “Of course, if the GOP shuts down the government, that would stall Biden’s confirmation work.”
President Joe Biden is shifting the nation's federal courts away from only being led by white, straight, male judges who used to be corporate lawyers.
What’s more interesting about Biden’s judges is how historically diverse they are, not only in terms of demographic factors like race and gender but also in terms of professional backgrounds.
One hundred of his 150 judges are women. That’s nearly double the number of female judges that Trump confirmed during his entire time in the White House, and it’s already more than any other president confirmed in a first term in office.
Biden is perhaps most proud to have put Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson onto the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to ever serve there.
Other firsts include Judge Myrna Pérez, a former voting rights lawyer and the only Latina woman on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Nancy Abudu, the first Black woman to serve on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Beth Robinson, the first openly LGBTQI+ woman to sit on a federal appeals court; and Judges Zahid Quraishi and Nusrat Choudhury, the first two Muslim Americans ever to serve as Article III judges.
Of all of his judicial appointments, Biden is perhaps most proud of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
As for professional diversity, the president has put 35 former public defenders and 23 former civil rights attorneys into federal judgeships ― a major shift away from the more traditional corporate lawyers sought for these jobs.
“All of these men and women are highly qualified, faithful to the rule of law, and dedicated to the Constitution,” Biden said in a Tuesday statement. “They come from professional backgrounds that have for far too long been underrepresented on the bench—from labor and immigration attorneys to public defenders and civil rights lawyers.”
In all, the president has had more Black women confirmed to U.S. appeals courts than all previous presidential administrations combined. He’s gotten more Asian American/Pacific Islander judges confirmed than any previous administration and put more Latina women onto the federal bench than the last three presidents. Biden has seen more Indigenous judges confirmed than in any other administration, too.
Senate Democrats have been taking victory laps over the milestones.
“These nominees are all historic taken together, and many are historic in their own right,” Schumer said in a statement. “This Senate has confirmed more women of color to the bench than any Senate under any previous President. And we aren’t done. We’ll continue to advance judicial nominations on the floor this Congress.”
Durbin relished in Biden’s judges’ qualifications compared to Trump’s court picks.
“During the Trump Administration, Senate Republicans confirmed eight Trump nominees who were found unqualified to serve on the federal bench by the American Bar Association,” he said on the Senate floor. “During the Biden Administration, not one of the 150 judges we have confirmed had an unqualified rating. Not one.”
Durbin said he sometimes hears Republicans “waxing about the glory days of judicial nominees under President Trump” and wonders what they’re talking about.
“Are they talking about the district court nominee who had never tried a case, and had instead worked as a ghost hunter and written blog posts defending the Ku Klux Klan?” he asked. “What about another Trump trial court nominee who had never tried a case, never examined a witness, never taken a deposition, and never argued a motion? Or the 6th Circuit nominee who likened abortion to slavery?”
(Several of Trump’s court picks were objectively terrible).
Are they talking about the district court nominee who had never tried a case, and had instead worked as a ghost hunter?Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), wondering why Republicans miss Trump's court picks
Curiously, tucked into Biden’s statement and the White House memo is a vow to fill “every judicial vacancy.” Progressives have been pushing for this kind of action from the White House for months. It’s not clear if this language signals a more aggressive stance by the White House or is simply a rhetorical flourish.
Either way, it would be incredibly difficult to pull this off: There are nearly 100 court vacancies waiting to be filled, most of which don’t have a nominee in the queue. This is largely due to Republicans not working with the White House to fill vacancies in their home states and Durbin still honoring the Judiciary Committee’s “blue slip” courtesy that allows GOP senators to unilaterally tank Biden’s court picks from their home states.
“We see examples every week of how much damage Trump judges are doing to the rights we hold dear. So it is essential that we surpass the Trump administration’s impact on the courts,” said Rakim Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group. “There must be a plan to overcome the hurdle of blue slips and fill every vacancy. The real celebrations start when Biden and Senate Democrats reach 235.”
Brooks is referring to Trump confirming a total of 234 judges as president and the need for Democrats and Biden to surpass that number.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether it plans to try to fill every judicial vacancy.
“President Biden has appointed the most diverse group of judges in history, and at a time when our courts are in desperate need of balance, he is right to say he is committed to filling all vacancies with excellent nominees,” said Colin Diersing of Demand Justice, another progressive judicial advocacy group. “Demand Justice will continue to advocate for policies that support that goal.”