Biden set to surpass Trump in first-year judicial nominees; a window into a major Democratic push

Biden set to surpass Trump in first-year judicial nominees; a window into a major Democratic push
Alex Brandon/AP

President Joe Biden will soon announce his latest wave of nine judicial nominees, according to a White House official, capping a year where the selections — and an effort to establish an imprint on the federal courts — served as a focal point for his administration.

Biden plans to announce his intent Wednesday to nominate nine district court nominees, bringing the administration’s total for the year to 73 — one more than former President Donald Trump nominated in his first year in office.

Among the nominees Biden will announce his intent to name are Jessica G.L. Clarke, the chief of the New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau since 2019, for the Southern District of New York. He will also nominate Sherilyn Peace Garnett, a former prosecutor and current California Superior Court judge, for the Central District of California.

For Biden and other Democrats, the filling of federal judicial openings took on a new level of significance in the wake of the historically successful push by Trump and Senate Republicans. Biden pledged during his presidential campaign not only to make nominations a priority, but also to pursue nominees who brought both personal and professional diversity to the bench.

“These choices also 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,” a White House official said in a statement.

Biden’s efforts have been closely coordinated with Senate Democrats and have resulted in 28 confirmations, with at least two other nominees expected to win confirmation before the end of the year. That number also exceeds Trump’s first year in office, which has served as an unofficial benchmark of sorts for an administration keen on emphasizing its focus on the courts.

Trump’s success marked a cornerstone achievement for then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and elevated the issue among Democrats, who saw the balance of courts from the Supreme Court on down reshaped before Trump’s 2020 reelection defeat.

To this point, Biden has not faced a Supreme Court opening, though Democrats have closely watched his selections as potential steps toward who he would pick should one occur.

Biden’s first-year nominees have led to the confirmation of nine circuit court judges, including Lucy Koh, who was confirmed this week by the Senate for the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The confirmations underscore the effort to fill critical appeals court openings, which are viewed as exceedingly important in the effort to shape the second-highest courts in the country.

A 10th circuit court confirmation — for Jennifer Sung, also for the 9th Circuit — is expected to clear the Senate on Wednesday, as is the confirmation of Samantha D. Elliott to be a US district court judge for the District of New Hampshire.

But in a 50-50 Senate controlled by Democrats, time is of the essence for the White House with the midterm elections looming less than a year away.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has made clear that processing and confirming judicial nominees is a priority on the Senate floor. Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, has echoed that emphasis in his committee.

Beyond the numbers themselves, Biden’s final group of nominees for the year underscores what has become a model of sorts for his selections in a push to diversify the ranks of the federal judiciary.

The President’s selections have included 53 women, making up 73% of all judicial nominees, as well as 20 African Americans, 15 Hispanics and 13 Asian American Pacific Islander picks.

They also include 21 public defenders, 16 civil rights lawyers and five labor lawyers, as the administration has sought to elevate nominees with more diverse professional backgrounds.

The other district court nominees will be:

  • Hector Gonzalez, a partner at Dechert LLP, for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
  • Kenly Kiya Kato, US magistrate judge for the Central District of California, for the US District Court for the Central District of California.
  • Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
  • William S. Pocan, the deputy chief judge of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
  • Jennifer L. Rochon, general counsel of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
  • Fred W. Slaughter, California Superior Court judge, for the US District Court for the Central District of California.
  • Sunshine Suzanne Sykes, California Superior Court judge, for the US District Court for the Central District of California.

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