Presidents’ First Judicial Picks Capture Theme for Nominations

President Joe Biden is expected to make his first judicial decisions soon. If previous President’s practice indicates this, these decisions will reflect his priorities for appointing judges.

His immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, signaled a willingness to work with Senate Republicans on his first Circuit Court candidate, Amul Thapar, championed for the Sixth Circuit by his Kentucky compatriot Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Barack Obama attempted to show that he wanted to work across the aisle by announcing David Hamilton for the Seventh Circuit, a moderate election backed by his Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar.

“The first few sentences of nominations are used to make some sort of statement about what my administration is all about when it comes to judicial nominations,” said Elliot Slotnick, a political science professor at Ohio State University who studies judicial nominations.

Biden works with 96 current and anticipated jobs for lifelong federal court appointments, including 12 jobs for appeals courts. Biden has signaled that he wants to be quick to respond to nominees who prioritize diversity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and experience.

Presidents for the past 40 years have generally announced their first decisions between February and August, with nominations in the youngest administrations coming earlier.

Image: Jonathan Hurtarte / Bloomberg Law

Slotnick said Biden is “getting a bit of goodbye” because of the time it takes to enforce Covid relief laws. He has also talked about judges by creating the judicial reform commission he promised in the campaign.

US Supreme Court nominations were among the first few choices for four of the last six presidents. Future judges such as Amy Coney Barrett and John Roberts were also among the first groups of lower courts.

Although Biden does not have a vacancy on the Supreme Court, he has two vacancies on the DC Circuit, which is often a stepping stone to Supreme Court appointments.

Biden promised to appoint the first black woman to be a judge. Potential candidates include DC District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.

Biden is under pressure from Liberals to nominate various candidates for the judiciary, with an emphasis on individuals who have experience as defense lawyers and civil rights attorneys. Progressives don’t want corporate lawyers and federal prosecutors, who already make up a large part of the seated judges.

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