In the aftermath of the placement of over 220 of then-President Donald Trump’s nominees on the federal judiciary, the Biden administration and Democrats in the Senate are now moving swiftly to fill looming federal judicial vacancies. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for two of Biden’s circuit court nominees and three of his picks for district courts, and The New York Times notes that all the nominees who were under consideration are “people of color with backgrounds that differed substantially from nominees traditionally chosen by presidents of both parties, including an emphasis on serving as a public defender.”
Democrats have begun advancing Biden's first judicial nominees, taking a significant step to counter Trump's influence on the courts.
In a marked contrast, the two circuit court nominees and three district court candidates were all people of color. https://t.co/AqMCWOBUxQ
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 29, 2021
The circuit court nominees included Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, both of whom would — if confirmed — handle appeals cases at the highest level before cases reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The Times notes that Jackson “is considered a potential future Supreme Court nominee by Democrats,” while both candidates have previously worked as federal public defenders. During the proceedings on Wednesday, where Republicans challenged the Biden nominees over defendants who they have represented, Jackson-Akiwumi said that she “stand[s] by” her “commitment” and the “oath” that she “took as an attorney, which is to represent zealously everyone who requires federal representation in our federal court.”
Meanwhile, while facing similar scrutiny from Republicans over their background, Judge Jackson said that she believes that defense experience in general could “help not only the judge himself or herself in considering the facts and circumstances in the case, but also help the system overall in terms of their interaction with defendants.” Often, presidential nominees for roles in the federal judiciary have had backgrounds in prosecution, which could in theory obviously leave them with a greater familiarity with — and potential receptiveness to — prosecutorial arguments.
Besides Jackson and Jackson-Akiwumi, the Judiciary Committee also considered lower-court nominees including Regina M. Rodriguez, who would serve in Colorado if confirmed by the Senate, alongside Julien Xavier Neals and Zahid N. Quraishi, both of whom would serve in New Jersey if confirmed. At present, Democrats have 51 votes in the Senate when including participation from Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker, so without any Democratic defections, the Biden judicial nominees could be slated for confirmation. There’s no apparent indication that any Democrats plan on defecting.
It’s worth noting that Trump’s impact on the federal judiciary was smaller (in terms of the number of his nominees confirmed) than the impact from his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, who got a total of 327 of his judicial nominees confirmed.