Biden continues nominating a diverse slate of federal judges at a rapid pace

Biden continues nominating a diverse slate of federal judges at a rapid pace
President Joe Biden prepares remarks regarding the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack and resumption of operations, Thursday, May 13, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden announced his fifth round of judicial nominees Wednesday, with nine candidates. These nominees "continue to fulfill the President's promise to ensure that the nation's courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country—both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds," the White House said in a statement announcing the slate.

Among those nominees, per the White House:

  • A woman who would be the first federal judge of South Asian descent in Michigan
  • A labor lawyer and former union organizer who would also be the first AAPI judge from Oregon on the Ninth Circuit
  • An Assistant U.S. Attorney who would be the second woman of color to ever serve on the federal bench in Virginia
  • A former prosecutor with the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section who would be the first Hispanic judge on the Court of Federal Claims

Thus far, Biden has tapped 32 judicial nominees, maintaining a rapid pace for both nominations and confirmations that is putting even what Sen. Mitch McConnell did on behalf of the Federalist Society and Donald Trump to shame. "That number is notable for its historical context: It puts Biden on the fastest pace for judicial confirmations in a first presidential term in more than 50 years. The last president to have seven confirmations by this point was Richard Nixon in 1969, according to a White House official," CNN reports.

That barely makes a dent in the disaster McConnell and Trump have created in the federal judiciary, with the 230 judges they jammed onto courts, including three Supreme Court seats, but it's critical nonetheless to get every vacancy available filled. Biden has also prioritized installing a diverse slate of judges with varied professional experience, including as public defenders, labor lawyers, and civil rights attorneys.

That's crucial. But so is making sure that the courts—including the Supreme Court—are balanced and responsive to the reality of 21st century America. Niko Bowie, assistant professor at Harvard Law and a member of Biden's commission on Supreme Court reforms, testifies to that.

"It harms our careers to alienate judges and it helps our careers to praise them. In this respect, asking lawyers and law professors to testify about reforming the Supreme Court is liking asking a worker to testify about whether their boss is doing a good job," Bowie says. "But I think our commitment to democracy demands that we be honest about the harm the Supreme Court as an institution causes. We are all harmed when some of us can't afford health care because the court declared the expansion of Medicaid unconstitutional. We are all harmed when some of us cannot vote because the court rendered the Voting Rights Act ineffective. […] Democratizing the Supreme Court will be hard, but we must do it."

New and diverse voices on the courts—and most of Biden's nominees are that—are essential. But so is recognizing that the courts have been adulterated by a massively partisan effort—funded by the Federalist Society's network of dark money organizations—to seize the judiciary. Court expansion, including the Supreme Court, is at this point as existential to our democracy as any reform.

In the meantime, though, good on Biden for the commitment he's demonstrating on filling seats. This round of nominees include Toby Heytens, the solicitor general for the Commonwealth of Virginia, to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Jennifer Sung, a member of the Oregon Employment Relations Board, to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This round of district court nominees includes: Patricia Tolliver Gates, an assistant U.S. attorney, to become the second woman of color on the federal bench in Virginia; Jane Beckering, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge, to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan; Shalina Kumar, the chief judge on the Oakland County 6th Circuit Court, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan; and Michael Nachmanoff, U.S. magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In addition, he's nominating two federal claims court judges: Armando Bonilla, the vice president of ethics and investigations at Capitol One, to be the first Hispanic judge on the court if confirmed; and Carolyn Lerner, the chief circuit mediator for the U.S. Courts of the D.C. Circuit, to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

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