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'Great First Step': Progressives Welcome Biden's Slate of Judicial Nominees

The president, said one leading advocate, "is demonstrating his commitment to building a diverse bench of qualified, fair-minded judges with a commitment to equal justice under the law."

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson—President Joe Biden's nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and "the other public defenders and civil rights lawyers in this group are exactly the kind of judges we need to rebalance our courts," said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon. (Photo: Bill O'Leary/<em>The Washington Post</em> via Getty Images)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson—President Joe Biden's nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and "the other public defenders and civil rights lawyers in this group are exactly the kind of judges we need to rebalance our courts," said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon. (Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Critics of the GOP effort to remake the U.S. judiciary under former President Donald Trump on Tuesday welcomed President Joe Biden's first slate of judicial nominees—11 candidates who, according to the White House, reflect his "deeply held conviction that the federal bench should reflect the full diversity of the American people—both in background and in professional experience."

"We commend President Biden for nominating stellar lawyers to serve on our nation's federal courts," said Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron in a statement. "Today's nominees embody the demographic and professional diversity and forward-thinking that will ensure justice is served to the American people when they enter a courtroom."

"As we noted in our 2014 report, presidents need to do a better job of appointing judges with experience from all corners of the legal profession," Aron added. "Progressives are galvanized around our courts unlike at any point in recent history, which is why 70 groups joined us in issuing a statement of principles calling on the Biden administration to consider judges from this expanded pool of legal professionals. We are heartened they heeded our call."

The president's nominees are:

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit;
  • Tiffany Cunningham for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit;
  • Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit;
  • Judge Deborah Boardman for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland;
  • Judge Lydia Griggsby for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland;
  • Julien Neals for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey;
  • Judge Florence Y. Pan for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia;
  • Judge Zahid N. Quraishi for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey;
  • Regina Rodriguez for the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado;
  • Margaret Strickland for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico; and
  • Judge Rupa Ranga Puttagunta for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

"This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession," said Biden. "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."

According to the New York Times, "Allies say Mr. Biden, a former longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a deep background in judicial nominations, is determined to install judges with different sets of experiences from the mainly white corporate law partners and prosecutors who have been tapped for decades by presidents of both parties."

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The White House's statement pointed out that Biden is moving at a "historically fast pace" to fill court vacancies, highlighting that "the intent to nominate 11 individuals today is faster than any president in modern history. With respect to Circuit and District Courts, none of the last four administrations had nominated more than two candidates by this point in their presidency."

That speed was celebrated by progressives who had raised alarm about how quickly Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who served as majority leader during the last two congressional sessions, confirmed more than 200 judicial nominees. The Trump appointees were generally white, male, and fiercely right-wing.

"This is an incredibly exciting moment for our courts and our country," declared People For the American Way (PFAW) president Ben Jealous. "President Biden is prioritizing the federal bench by rolling out such a large slate of nominees so early in his term, and is demonstrating his commitment to building a diverse bench of qualified, fair-minded judges with a commitment to equal justice under the law."

Noting that the slate includes nominees with backgrounds as public defenders as well as multiple AAPI and Black female candidates, Jealous said that "if confirmed, Biden's nominees will bring a diversity of experience and background to the bench that will inform decision-making in a way that is too often lacking. Confirming these nominees will also begin the process of repairing the damage done to our courts during the Trump administration, and restoring public faith in our courts. The Senate should move quickly to advance these nominations."

Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon said in a statement that "it is a welcome shift to see this level of prioritization of judges." He called Jackson "a rising star" and said that "she and the other public defenders and civil rights lawyers in this group are exactly the kind of judges we need to rebalance our courts."

"Ideally all the nominees in this first wave would come from these kinds of underrepresented professional backgrounds," Fallon added. "But old habits die hard for some senators who are used to recommending corporate lawyers and prosecutors for federal judgeships."

Democrats now control the Senate, but only by the slimmest possible margin.

"We know Biden's stated preference for civil rights lawyers and labor lawyers for district courts is only as good as the buy-in it generates among home-state senators," Fallon explained. "This means progressives need to double down on pressuring these senators, and that is what we intend to do in the months ahead."

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