This week, the Senate began confirming President Joe Biden’s first judicial nominees, as Democrats begin efforts to build their influence on the federal courts.
In a vote of 66-33, African American Julien Xavier Neals was confirmed to be a district court judge in New Jersey. Regina Rodriguez was also confirmed to become the first Asian American judge to serve on the Federal District Court bench in Colorado.
Neals and Rodriguez were nominated for judgeships during former President Obama’s second term but did not come up for votes in the Senate, which was run by then-majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell.
Of the confirmations, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said they were “the first of many jurists that the Democratic-led Senate will consider to restore the balance to the federal judiciary.”
There are currently 71 vacancies in district courts and nine openings in appeals courts, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. About a dozen other nominees are already making their way through the approval process, with more than 100 vacancies expected to be open on the federal bench in the coming months.
Democrats also plan to move as soon as this week to confirm Biden’s first appeals court pick, Ketanji Brown Jackson, an African American woman, to serve on the influential District of Columbia Circuit. Jackson is seen as a likely short-lister for a Supreme Court vacancy should a space become open during Biden’s presidency.
In the nation’s highest court, the judicial battle could intensify if a Supreme Court justice retires. Many progressives are urging 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, to retire while Democrats control the Senate so they can confirm a liberal successor.
Why We Need to Know:
Republicans aggressively reshaped the judiciary with young, mostly White male conservatives during the Trump administration. Some 234 judges were appointed to the federal bench, tipping the ideological balance to the right in numerous circuit courts and creating the most conservative Supreme Court in nearly 100 years.
As we’ve seen in many recent court cases, representation matters. In reference to this week’s confirmations, Democratic Illinois Senator and chairman of the Judiciary Committee Richard Durbin, said it best.
“The face of justice is often as important as the fact of justice,” Durbin said. “And if people appearing before our courts feel that there is at least a chance for success based on the background and experience of a judge, I think it’s a positive thing.”