In four years, President Donald Trump appointed 54 federal judges. That’s only one less than President Barack Obama, who was appointed with two terms instead of one. Trump also installed district judges faster, appointing 177 in four years compared to Obama’s 272 in eight years.
This fits with a narrative over the past few decades that Republicans are more aggressive when it comes to appointing judges who align with their right-wing ideology.
Now progressive Democrats are expecting the Biden government to correct this inequality.
“I think the Biden administration set the tone early on that it will make judicial nominations one of its top priorities,” said Christopher Kang, White House deputy attorney under Obama, told Cheddar. “They’re not just talking about how fast they can move, but most of all about the type of judges they’d like to put on the bench.”
Kang is now the co-founder and chief attorney of Demand Justice, a network of progressive advocacy groups that are pushing the Biden government to be more aggressive than previous Democratic administrations when it comes to appointing judicial officers – both in terms of number of appointments and who ideological inclination and legal background of the judge.
While the appointment of judicial officers doesn’t usually start until the spring, these proponents point to some early signs that the new president may be following their lead.
One important piece of evidence is that some high-ranking officials in the Biden administration have been torn from their ranks.
Paige Herwig, who previously worked for Demand Justice and as assistant advisor to Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Is currently working on judicial nominations for the White House Attorney’s office.
Their presence can already be felt. The government announced in February that it would not restore the American Bar Association’s role as the unofficial gatekeeper in reviewing nominations. Progressive advocates have long criticized the group for classifying a disproportionate number of women and people of color as “unskilled” under its rating system, a rating that previous administrations had at times ignored.
“All of this serves one of our broadest goals – to diversify the judiciary to ensure we include the most talented candidates from a variety of personal and professional life experiences,” Herwig told The New York Mal.
Another representative of the Office of White House Counsel that progressive attorneys celebrate is Tona Boyd, who served as Chief Counsel and Senior Legal Advisor to Senator Cory Booker (DN.J.) and has a background in hate crime and police misconduct tracked.
Kang added that Biden’s election as chief of staff, Ron Klain, also bodes well for their cause. As chief attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, Klain helped President Bill Clinton’s appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, and also played a role in the controversial Justice Confirmation Hearings Clarence Thomas.
“Ron Klain is someone who understands the courts better than any other chief of staff,” he said.
Diversification of dishes
Personnel changes aside, another sign of Biden’s new approach to judicial appointment was a letter that White House attorney Dana Remus had sent to the Senate back in December.
The letter asked Democratic senators to recommend candidates from different backgrounds.
“With respect to US District Court positions, we are particularly focused on nominating individuals whose legal experience has historically been underrepresented at the Bundesbank, including individuals who are defense lawyers, civil rights advocates, and legal aid attorneys, and individuals who are Americans in any way represent life, “wrote Remus in the letter.
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a report in August showing that 65 percent of Circuit Court justices had spent most of their careers in private practice, while only 1 percent had spent most of their careers as public ones Defense counsel or lawyer had spent help.
“This lack of diversity not only reflects the closed and elitist nature of the Federal Appeal Bank, but also creates an obstacle to the ability of the courts to develop intellectually rich jurisdiction based on the consciousness of a wide range of experiences of individuals across the country is based. ” the report stated.
While diversity is one concern, another just occupies the seats.
“It’s important that we put young, progressive judges on the bench and do so as soon as the seats are available,” said Molly Coleman, executive director of the People’s Parity Project, another nonprofit progressive advocacy group. “That means we have a judicial crisis in this country. We don’t have enough judges at any level in this country.”
Congress used to vote to expand the lower courts at least once a decade to keep up with the growing number of legal cases, but that practice stalled in the 1990s. Now the courts are facing a backlog of cases, a situation the coronavirus pandemic has only complicated.
Coleman said the Biden administration had made a clear commitment to diversifying federal courts and appointing more judges, but perhaps less to systemic judicial reforms like expanding the Supreme Court, a controversial issue in the presidential election, or even lower courts.
The appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, confirmed by the Senate just days before the 2020 presidential election, only intensified the debate. The Democrats urged Republicans to wait until the election to fill the Supreme Court post that remained to be filled after Justice Ginsburg’s death.
“While it’s great to have the seats we have, we also need to think about the shape of our legal system and what needs to change if we are to achieve real justice in this country,” said Coleman.
Over the next four years, Coleman noted that it was critically important that political pressure and awareness of judicial nomination be an ongoing issue that is not dominated by the recent high profile vacancy.
“We can’t stop looking at it until the next Supreme Court position,” she said.