There's an important lesson in one of Biden and Schumer's biggest achievements of 2021

There's an important lesson in one of Biden and Schumer's biggest achievements of 2021
(Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden, joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to the press and departs the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, en route to the White House.

While President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been stymied in the Senate and by the courts and by a vengeful universe (the second year of COVID-19, which is ramping up with variants for the next year and beyond), there’s one first-year achievement worth crowing about: judicial appointments.

So you can forgive Schumer for taking a victory lap, but at the same time, no one should forget that his achievement was made possible by the decision of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—and a majority of Democratic senators—to end the filibuster for lower-court nominees.

All that Schumer is citing is true. The judges the Senate has churned through in a record place are historically diverse:

In a comprehensive report, Alliance for Justice has highlighted the many firsts among this crop of judges: the first openly lesbian judge on the Court of Appeals (Beth Robinson); the first Korean American to sit on the Court of Appeals (Lucy Koh); the first Muslim federal judge (Zahid Quraishi); the first Black judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Tiffany Cunningham); the first woman of color to serve on the U.S. District Court in Maryland (Lydia Griggsby); the first Native American federal judge in Washington state (Lauren J. King)—the list goes on. According to Alliance for Justice, nearly 75 percent of Biden’s judicial nominees are women, and nearly 65 percent are people of color. For comparison, only 24 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees were women, and just 16 percent were people of color.

What’s more, they have professional diversity: “21 public defenders, 14 civil rights attorneys, 10 plaintiff-side lawyers, three former legal aid lawyers, three consumer protection lawyers, and one labor lawyer.”

It’s not all great news, though. For one thing, there are voting rights and civil rights and LGBTQ rights champions among Biden’s nominees, but “not a single nominee who specializes in protecting abortion access—no one like, say, Brigitte Amiri, the fearless ACLU attorney who thwarted the Trump administration’s efforts to stop undocumented minors from terminating unwanted pregnancies.” That’s a glaring omission—and a pretty scary one, looking at the future of abortion rights with the current Supreme Court.

That’s the other problem. All of these judges can make a difference, but only to the point that their cases stand and don’t advance to the Supreme Court. Because as it is currently constituted, thanks to being packed by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, any significant progressive movement by the lower courts will be reversed.

In addition to recognizing that Biden achieved this because of filibuster reform, it’s also important to note that the minute he had the opportunity, McConnell also changed the rule for Supreme Court justices so that he could do just what he has done: pack it.

One would think old Senate hands like Biden and Schumer, who’ve had the questionable benefit of serving with McConnell and seeing what he’s capable of doing, wouldn’t be at all squeamish about doing what’s necessary to thwart him. Like expanding the Supreme Court to dilute the pernicious, regressive, and out-of-the-mainstream conservative majority, the last three of whom were literally packed on. Neil Gorsuch is in the seat McConnell stole from President Barack Obama. Brett Kavanaugh is serving under about five different ethical clouds, from alleged sexual assault to perjury before Congress. Amy Coney Barrett was shoved onto the court while people were casting their presidential ballots in the fall of 2020.

So, yes, Biden and Schumer should take this moment to celebrate, but they can’t rest on this achievement. There’s far more that needs to be done to secure the nation’s future.

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