Yay Biden Judges!
Last year, Joe Biden vowed to nominate federal judges "who look like America, are committed to the rule of law, understand the importance of individual civil rights and civil liberties in a democratic society, and respect foundational precedents like Brown vs. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade."
Well, promises made and promises kept!
Tuesday, Joe Biden announced his first crop of judicial nominees. And they are very good judicial nominees!
Amazingly, every single nominee is a woman or person of color. Almost a third of them have served as public defenders! And some of them didn't even go to Harvard or Yale.
This is the fastest a president has nominated this many judges, which speaks well for how seriously the Biden administration is taking its role in appointing judges. (Even the Trump regime, which was surprisingly and unfortunately efficient at getting judges confirmed, had only nominated two judges by this point in 2017.)
As a former longtime Senate Judiciary Chair, Biden has a deep background in judicial nominations. And I couldn't be happier to see him using it for good!
Let's take look at these judges!
I really just can't overstate how excited I am about this. Without exaggeration, this might actually be the best slate of district and circuit court judges to ever be nominated together.
If confirmed, the 11 nominees will become: the first Muslim federal district or appellate judge ever, the first woman of color in the District of Maryland, the first two Asian American/Pacific Islander judges in both the District of New Jersey and the District of Maryland, the first Black woman on the Federal Circuit, the only person of color/only Black woman on the Seventh Circuit, and three Black women on our federal appellate courts.
Let's take a look at a few of my favs!
Kentaji Brown Jackson
Kentaji Brown Jackson will be on the Supreme Court someday — and possibly some day very soon.
Joe Biden has promised to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court and Judge Jackson is a top contender. Jackson is a former clerk of Justice Stephen Breyer — who at 82 is both the oldest member of the Court and the likeliest to step down during the Biden administration. Jackson is being promoted to take Merrick Garland's seat on the DC Circuit, which is frequently a stepping stone on the way to SCOTUS.
Judge Jackson has been kicking ass and taking names on the federal court for the District of DC since 2013. But one of my favorite things about her is that she is a former federal public defender.
Increasing diversity on the federal bench is really important — and part of that is diversity of legal backgrounds. The vast majority of federal judges in this country aren't just white men; they're white men with backgrounds as prosecutors and civil defense lawyers. And while we all want judges to be impartial, they're still human. And a career prosecutor is going to come to cases from an entirely different position from a career public defender.
This nomination (which was accurately predicted by yours truly, thankyouverymuch), puts her even closer to the highest court in the land.
A Black woman federal public defender on the Supreme Court. That's the dream.
Candace Jackson-Akiwumi has been nominated to join the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals — and we are so excited about it!
Jackson-Akiwumi, a Black woman, spent 2010 through 2020 as a federal public defender, where she represented more than 400 indigent clients accused of federal crimes. Public defenders and civil rights lawyers, whose actual job is to defend the Constitution, are rarely elevated to the bench. And, while we all want judges to be impartial, judges are still human and the reality is that our experience shapes the way we see the world. If we have a federal judiciary entirely made up of former prosecutors, chances are they are going to tend to favor the prosecutors.
If confirmed, Jackson-Akiwumi will be just the second-ever Black judge on the Seventh Circuit and the only person of color currently on the court. The Seventh Circuit, which is based in fucking Chicago for chrissakes, is entirely white. The court has appellate jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, which includes some 7.5 million people of color. The white judges are, of course, mostly men and include no members of the LGBTQ community.
Zahid N. Quraishi
Would you believe that we have NEVER had a Muslim confirmed as a federal judge? That is insane. But it will hopefully be changed soon, with Biden's nomination of Zahid N. Quraishi to the federal District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Right now, Judge Quraishi is a magistrate judge for the District of New Jersey. Federal magistrate judges are not so-called "Article III judges" (the part of the Constitution that deals with judges who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate and receive lifetime tenure). They're appointed by district judges in their district and serve terms of four or eight years.
Fun fact: Federal magistrate judges mostly handle discovery, pro se cases, mediation, and disability/Social Security appeals, and their opinions can be appealed to the district court level. But if he's confirmed by the Senate, he will become a District Judge and hear all manner of cases at the trial court level.
All the others!
These are just three of the judges in a truly groundbreaking first slate from President Biden.
The list also includes:
- Margaret Strickland, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer with a background as a public defender, nominated to the District of New Mexico (which is a very busy immigration court, so yay for people who understand and care about civil rights!).
- Tiffany Cunningham, poised to become the first Black woman on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Florence Pan, who would be the first Asian American woman on the DC District Court.
- Current federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Boardman, another former federal defender(!), nominated to the District of Maryland.
- Judge Lydia Griggsby, currently a judge on the Court of Federal Claims, who would be the first woman of color in the District of Maryland.
- Julien Neals, who has held a bunch of positions in local government in Newark, nominated to the District of New Jersey.
- Regina Rodriguez, nominated to the District of Colorado after being the sole recommendation her two Senators gave the Biden administration, and,
- Judge Rupa Ranga Puttagunta, currently an administrative judge for the DC Rental Housing Commission, nominated to the DC Superior Court.
Julien Neals, Regina Rodriguez, and Judge Florence Pan were all nominated to these courts under Obama, but their nominations expired after Mitch McConnell refused to do his job and hold confirmation hearings.
So that's amazing!
I am, shall we say, a bit further left than the Biden administration. And one of the things I found disappointing about Barack Obama's presidency was that, while he made a lot of efforts to diversify the bench in terms of things like race, sex, and sexual orientation, he pretty much stuck to the old ways of nominating civil defense lawyers and prosecutors.
With his first slate of federal judge nominations, Biden has not only kept his promise of working to increase diversity on the bench — he has also shown that he means business with diversifying legal backgrounds.
We have a lot of work to do on the federal courts, especially after the incredible amount of damage Trump and McConnell were able to do to the federal judiciary in just four years.
But! The Biden administration has 68 seats already open and another 26 that will become available later this year. And with Democratic control of the Senate not guaranteed after next year, Biden and Chuck Schumer need to work to confirm as many judges as possible, as fast as they can.
But this is really an incredible start!
Let's give Joe the last word:
"This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession. Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong."
[ White House ]
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