Fixing the judiciary was a top priority for the Biden government. In just four years, President Trump has overcrowded the Bundesbank with over 200 life appointments, including 54 appellate judges, staggering numbers for a president with a tenure rivaling what Obama has accomplished on two counts. The legacy of Trump’s presidency is assured through these appointments alone.
Back in December 2020, a month before Biden’s swearing-in, the new White House legal advisor, Dana Remus, made it clear to Senate Democrats that a realignment of the courts was an urgent concern. Importantly, Remus encouraged the appointment of civil rights attorneys and public defenders with “legal experience” [that] are historically underrepresented at the Bundesbank ”, not just the corporate hacks and BigLaw partners favored in the years by Obama and Trump. A commitment to diversity has been made not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of professional experience.
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After almost six months, the results are clearly mixed. Some nominees have been public interest attorneys such as Margaret Strickland, the recently nominated attorney who won a case against the Las Cruces, New Mexico Police Department for excessive use of force and was recommended by New Mexico Democratic Senators. Above all, the appellate court candidates, so far a total of six, come mainly from public defenders and clearly show that they are committed to professional diversity.
But many other appointments, particularly those to district courts in a handful of states, have fallen far short of this mandate. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper recommended a former BigLaw partner who was also nominated under Obama with their first recommendation. Other Democratic senators have also refused to nominate candidates outside the aegis of company law and the federal prosecutor’s office, as specifically requested by the Biden government. So far, Biden has nominated these recommendations anyway. As Buzzfeed reported in April, this resulted in “two dozen public-interest organizations”. [that] sent a letter to White House attorney Dana Remus expressing ‘concern’ that there were no nominees ‘with real experience in representing consumers and workers’. “
Perhaps the most defiant of the judicial recommendations of the state was New Jersey, with six vacant positions in the US District Court, four of which have now been nominated by Biden and awaiting Senate approval. Those nominees ranged from the remodeled Obama era to worse.
The Biden government specifically called for nominees with varying levels of experience in the challenge of fixed power.
Cory Booker’s most recent recommendation, Karen Williams, who officially nominated Biden in mid-May, spent most of her career in a private practice. Williams spent many years serving as an employment and labor lawyer in management, even arguing against claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, a troubling backdrop for those hoping for court appointments to defend workers.
In 2002, Williams defended Atlantic City on a sexual assault case in which a former city employee alleged “gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retribution”. Three years later, Williams again defended Atlantic City in a case where a former city worker alleged the city violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by ignoring his epilepsy.
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In 2006, Williams represented the Forrestal Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility’s pavilion before the National Labor Relations Board in a controversial union negotiation case in which the judge found that the facility Williams was defending “refused to act in good faith with SEIU 1199 Negotiate New Jersey Health “. Care Union when it canceled eight consecutive negotiation sessions “and” continued to act in bad faith by maintaining an adamant position on the resumption of wages negotiations “. That was just one of several management cases that Williams’ company Jasinski and Williams discussed in front of the NLRB.
Incredibly, Williams isn’t the only management nominee recently put up by the New Jersey delegation. A few weeks before Williams was nominated, Bob Menendez, the state’s senior senator, recommended Christine O’Hearn an attorney whom he claimed had “spent much of her career advocating for women in the workplace and the rights of women Defend workers against worker discrimination. Harassment and a hostile work environment. “
In reality, Williams has fought against incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, defended law enforcement agencies and represented management in union actions. In 2007, O’Hearn represented the Gloucester County Institute of Technology on allegations by a student that her swim coach molested her between the ages of 13 and 19. In 2011, she defended Gloucester Township Schools against a lawsuit filed on behalf of several African American school children alleging widespread and persistent racism by teachers and administrators, including allegations that several teachers called students the N word and “tar baby” , dissuaded them from extracurricular activities because of their race, wrongly gave them bad grades, and even called the plaintiffs’ mother the N-word when she reported incidents of racism.
Senators in Biden’s own party are undermining one of his firmest commitments and weakening his agenda.
Later, in 2012, O’Hearn defended Pine Hill Ward against allegations by an employee that she had been sexually molested by the mayor. Last year, O’Hearn represented the Vineland, New Jersey Police Department in a case in which a former police chief alleged retaliation for reporting unethical behavior. She also represented the Cooper Health System, a major New Jersey hospital, before the National Labor Relations Board as an employer-side attorney when Cooper Health workers tried to unionize.
Usually this is where status quo defenders step in to say that lawyers do not necessarily share and should not be held accountable for their clients’ views. But in this case the Biden government specifically called for nominees with varying levels of experience in the challenge of fixed power. And choosing not one but two management labor lawyers who have worked for union breakers and corrupt employers in the past completely ignores this demand.
While O’Hearn certainly doesn’t meet the requirements for professional diversity, as a white woman she also doesn’t meet the most basic, identity-driven requirements of the Biden government. However, she peaked at two $ 2,500 donations to Menendez in his 2012 Senate run. And because these judicial recommendations are made with the help of counselors whose list Menendez did not publish, it is difficult to say how he would have gotten to O’Hearn outside of these connections.
In response to questions, Sen. Menendez’s office referred interested parties to his written statement announcing the O’Hearn nomination, which stated that “Ms. O’Hearn has spent much of her career advocating for women in the workplace and defending workers’ rights against discrimination, harassment and a hostile work environment by workers. She is well versed in labor and labor law, is smart, thorough, and detail-oriented. ”In a separate statement, Senator Booker said,“ Judge Williams has had a long and distinguished legal career defending and understanding workers’ rights Problems facing the people of South Jersey. “
“These are the types of people we would have expected from the Trump administration,” said Molly Coleman, executive director of the People’s Parity Project, a progressive judicial group. “Progress has made it clear what we expect from President Biden: Candidate judges who reflect the best of the legal profession, not the worst. The fact that a full 10 percent of Biden’s first 20 nominees worked as attorneys on the management side is unacceptable.
The open defiance of Menendez and Booker in New Jersey puts the Biden administration in an extremely difficult position. It would be shocking for Biden to openly criticize or reject the recommendations of senators in states where these posts have become vacant; It’s almost impossible to believe that as a Senate traditionalist Joe Biden would break this norm. But accepting these inferior choices makes him look like he doesn’t have the courage to share his beliefs. “Lawyers like Christine O’Hearn, who have spent their careers fighting against workers, unions and economic justice, have no place on the Bundesbank. If Sens. Booker and Menendez don’t see this, it is time the Biden government stopped accepting their recommendations, ”said Coleman.
Without this action, the result is that senators in Biden’s own party undermine one of his firmest commitments and weaken his agenda. His appeals court decisions, which were made without a senatorial recommendation, have largely remained true to the commitment to professional diversity. Not all of his former contemporaries in the Senate seem to believe that. With only a handful of vacancies on offer, it’s important for Biden to count everyone, which means he’ll either have to face the wayward Senators who refuse his direction or give in to a handful of younger colleagues.
This story has been updated.