The White House rolled out its first wave of judicial nominees Tuesday, making early headway on President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise of progressive appointments to rival the high court reconstruction of his Republican predecessor.
With court vacancies more or less limited and the split Senate a house of mavericks, however, little certainty exists with regard to the 11 nominees’ confirmation chances and ability to influence the broader federal judiciary.
Here’s a look at the field as it begins to take shape:
Nominating judges who reflect America is a top priority. That’s why today I announced 11 nominees — the earliest any administration has announced this many judges in modern history. They represent the best of the legal profession and the diversity that makes our nation strong. pic.twitter.com/Zr7ywGpRLe
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 30, 2021
Highlighted first and foremost on the short-list of nominees was D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who Biden chose to fill the D.C. Circuit Court seat vacated by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Jackson has received high praise from the establishment media in the hours since her nomination, with some jumping to label the jurist a potential Supreme Court contender, as the D.C. Circuit Court has long been deemed a feeder for the nation’s highest.
Her fellow nominees include Magistrate Judge Deborah Boardman and Federal Claims Court Judge Lydia Griggsby for the Maryland District Court; county counsel and administrator Julien Neals for New Jersey’s District Court; civil rights and criminal lawyer Margaret Strickland for the New Mexico District Court; and former federal prosecutor Regina Rodriguez for the Colorado District Court.
Biden also nominated magistrate judge Zahid N. Quraishi to the New Jersey District Court, patent litigator Tiffany Cunningham to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and public defender Candace Jackson-Akiwumi to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, while D.C. Superior Court judge Florence Y. Pan was floated as Jackson’s D.C. District successor, if she was in fact elevated to the D.C. Circuit.
Race seems to have played a key role in the nominations, with the White House expressly pointing out that the slate would elevate three black female jurists and confirm the first Muslim federal judge in the country’s history — a metric some experts believe was weighted as strongly as the progressive bent of the candidate in this instance.
“They look to be nominees of the left, with a focus on racial characteristics, which is unfortunate,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told The Western Journal. “We should be focusing on picking folks based on merit, and his desire to kind of check the various categories and demographics, as opposed to, you know, it undermines the candidates themselves.”
On the trail, Biden courted progressive audiences with the promise of a diverse cabinet and a black, female Supreme Court nominee, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki has since assured the administration intends to keep its word.
SUPREME COURT: Jen Psaki says President Biden remains committed to appointing a Black woman to the Supreme Court. pic.twitter.com/7IbOuWvVWl
— Forbes (@Forbes) March 31, 2021
This week’s judicial announcement falls directly in line with such messaging from the Biden camp, which has taken every opportunity to stress the importance of race and ethnicity in the federal appointments process.
“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden said in his Tuesday statement.
“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.”
The early move makes him the fastest-moving modern president with regard to the judiciary, out-pacing his most recent predecessors, who forwarded just two and three judicial nominees by April, respectively. But whether that quick start will pay off is already up for debate.
Given the current breakdown of the U.S. Senate, a party-line vote would go for the Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the 50-50 split.
Swing and red-state Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema complicate the field, however. Having publicly rejected the idea that Biden will get his way by default with a technical supermajority in Congress, either senator could place particularly progressive judges at risk, or at least hold them up in pursuit of concessions on another policy front.
Of course, experts told The Western Journal they are anything but confident this would keep Biden nominees from the bench, as conservative senators have a history of ceding ground to the opposition on issues of appointment.
“He’ll probably get a good number of judges through,” Fitton warned Tuesday. “Republicans have been unwilling and unable to oppose nominees of President Biden.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, for instance, has been more than willing to play nice in his lengthy tenure on the judiciary committee. The four-term Republican, a brawler in the throes of the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, was well-known for reaching across the aisle to support President Barack Obama’s two successful Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
His stalwart support for any candidate qualified to take up a given post would even lead Graham to support Garland, a once-stonewalled Obama Supreme Court nominee, for attorney general. And the senator’s bipartisan principle seems common among key figures in the Senate GOP.
Trump’s judicial legacy isn’t just about the three conservatives he put on the Supreme Court. He’s also appointed 54 judges to the influential courts of appeal and they are already making their mark on contentious issues:https://t.co/PROXtyn9Lu pic.twitter.com/45pCUWxTLx
— Lawrence Hurley (@lawrencehurley) January 15, 2021
The impact Biden’s slate of nominees can have on the broader court if confirmed remains in question, however, with Trump-era confirmations changing the face of the federal bench and leaving an unsubstantial number of vacancies for the current administration to fill.
Judicial reconstruction was something of a legacy issue between former President Donald Trump and former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who prevented the Garland confirmation and saw 234 conservative judges confirmed in the last four years.
More than a quarter of the federal court is now Trump-appointed, with the confirmation of three Supreme Court justices an obvious crown jewel. The last executive to appoint more than two justices to the nation’s highest court was President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
“President Trump had a remarkable record in terms of the sheer number of appointees,” Fitton said. “But it’s not to say Biden can’t get a similar bite if his party is motivated in the Senate.”
“One of the issues about judicial nominations: It’s really remarkable how quickly a president can put their stamp on the judiciary,” he added, having previously pointed to the judiciary as a choke-point in national politics.
“It’s an area where a president can have a quick impact.”
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