People For the American Way

200 Judicial Confirmations: Let’s Keep Up the Good Work 

News and Analysis
200 Judicial Confirmations: Let’s Keep Up the Good Work 

With the confirmation of Angela Martinez to the District Court of Arizona, the nation has reached an important milestone: This is the 200th confirmation of a lifetime judicial nominee since President Biden took office. It is cause for celebration of what has been achieved, along with determination to keep moving forward. 

Why Courts Matter 

When we have good judges, our courts perform a vital function. They are where we can go to vindicate our rights. 

When we have fair courts, abusive law enforcement officials are held accountable for unjustified violence; our right to vote is protected from attack; laws protecting consumers and working people are enforced; people have better access to legally protected health care, including abortion care; we can better protect our communities from dangerous toxins and more effectively address climate change; and more. 

Decades ago, extreme conservatives recognized this, and they set out to take over our courts. They have pushed for judges who will reliably rule in favor of the privileged and powerful. 

They couldn’t amend the Constitution to eliminate the right to abortion, so they fought for judges who would reinterpret the Constitution to exclude that right. They couldn’t get Congress to repeal the Voting Rights Act, so they fought for judges who would “interpret” that law so as to take away much of that law’s effectiveness. They couldn’t get Congress to scrap our environmental protection laws, so they fought for judges who would find ways to limit the EPA anyway. Ultra-conservative judges find ways to distort protections written into the Constitution and our nation’s laws. They have gained a majority on our Supreme Court, and they populate circuit and district courts around the country. Their rulings are hurting all of us. 

Repairing our courts so they do what they are supposed to do is a long-term project. Fortunately, President Biden has made it a priority. The 200th confirmation is an excellent time to look at the great progress that has been made since he took office. 

Unprecedented Diversity 

President Biden has prioritized diversity in the courts. He has far exceeded previous administrations in the demographic diversity of his nominees. Here are just a few highlights: 

  • More than 60 percent of Biden’s confirmed judges have been people of color.
  • Forty percent have been women of color.
  • Biden has named more Black women to federal circuit courts (13) than all his predecessors combined (8).
  • More than a third of all Black woman federal judges in U.S. history were put on the bench by President Biden.
  • President Biden has appointed more than one third of all AANHPI lifetime judges in U.S. history.
  • President Biden has appointed more than one third of all active Latino/a lifetime judges.
  • Before Biden was president, only 4 Native Americans had ever been federal judges. Biden has already put an additional 4 Native Americans onto the bench.
  • President Biden has already named as many out LGBTQ+ judges (11) as President Obama did over eight years, including the first three out lesbians ever to serve on a federal circuit court.
  • President Biden named the nation’s first Muslim American lifetime federal judges, and others have their nominations currently pending before the Senate.

Judges nominated by President Biden are also bringing professional experience to the bench that has been missing. He is reaching far beyond the pool of prosecutors and business lawyers that have long dominated our federal judiciary. Biden is making a point to nominate people whose records show a demonstrated commitment to civil rights. His 200 confirmed judges include dozens of public defenders, as well as lawyers with extensive experience protecting voting rights, abortion rights, civil rights, labor rights, and more. 

So Who Are These Terrific Judges? 

The most well-known of Biden’s confirmed judicial nominees is Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Americans were thrilled by her nomination. We remember her talking about the cards, letters, and photos she’d received from little girls around the country. We remember the unprecedented disrespect shown by her opponents at her confirmation hearing. And we remember her advice to young people to “persevere.” 

Early in her career, she worked as a public defender. She represented indigent men and women who were accused of crimes but who could not afford a lawyer. She stood with them to make sure their rights were not violated by prosecutors or law enforcement. She has always understood that “courts have a role in making sure that everyday citizens have access to justice.” 

Less well-known are the many talented and principled judges Biden has nominated to our federal circuit and district courts. They include: 

  • Nancy Abudu, who became first Black woman ever on the Eleventh Circuit. She had spent her career defending voting rights with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU.
  • Nicole Berner, who became the first out LGBTQ+ person on the Fourth Circuit. She had represented organized labor at SEIU since 2006, and Planned Parenthood before that.
  • Victoria Calvert, who became the first former public defender to be a judge in the Northern District of Georgia.
  • Nusrat Choudhury, who became the first Muslim American woman confirmed as a federal judge. Before her confirmation for the Eastern District of New York, she was deputy director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.
  • Cindy Chung, who became the first AAPI judge ever on the Third Circuit. Her experience included prosecuting federal civil rights violations for the Justice Department.
  • Arianna Freeman, who became the first woman of color on the Third Circuit. She is a Black woman who had spent her career as a public defender.
  • Brad Garcia, who became the first Latino on the DC Circuit. While working at a law firm, Garcia devoted about a quarter of his time to pro bono representation, often representing disadvantaged individuals without the resources to effectively vindicate their legal rights on their own.
  • Sara Hill, who became the first Native American woman to be a federal judge in Oklahoma. She had previously served as the Cherokee Nation’s Attorney General and its Secretary of Natural Resources.
  • Dale Ho, who was a longtime advocate for voting rights with the ACLU when President Biden nominated him for the Southern District of New York.
  • Tana Lin, who became the first AAPI federal judge in the Western District of Washington. Before becoming a judge, she had dedicated most of her career to protecting the rights of consumers and working people.
  • Shanalyn Park, who became the first Native Hawaiian woman to be a federal judge. She had substantial experience as a public defender.
  • Myrna Pérez, who became the first Latina on the Second Circuit since now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2009. Pérez had been a career voting rights advocate with the Brennan Center.
  • Julie Rikelman, who was the litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights before becoming a judge on the First Circuit.
  • Beth Robinson, who became the first out lesbian not just on the Second Circuit but on any federal appeals court. She had been a marriage equality advocate in Vermont as co-founder and leader of Vermont Freedom to Marry.
  • Jennifer Sung, who became the first AAPI person from Oregon to serve on the Ninth Circuit. She had spent much of her career representing labor organizations and working people.

How They Are Protecting Our Rights 

Judges nominated by President Biden are making a difference in people’s lives. Their rulings are protecting our rights, our health, and our freedom. To give just a few examples: 

  • Fourth Circuit Judge Toby Heytens cast the deciding vote to uphold a race-neutral student admissions policy promoting diversity at a magnet school in Virginia. The Supreme Court, which had already struck down affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, declined to hear an appeal of the case.

Still More Work to Do in the Senate 

As the Senate confirms its 200th Biden judicial nominee, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin can rightly feel proud. In a closely divided Senate with the other party pulling out the stops to block qualified nominees from advancing, Schumer and Durbin have done a great job. 

And there is more to do. 

Nearly a dozen nominees have been advanced by the Judiciary Committee and are awaiting confirmation votes by the full Senate. They include: 

  • Amir Ali (nominated for the District of Washington DC). He leads the MacArthur Justice Center, a public interest law firm that represents people who have been harmed by the criminal legal system. He is also a Muslim American.
  • Mustafa Kasubhai (nominated for the District of Oregon). He is a longtime and respected jurist, first as a state judge in Oregon and then as a federal magistrate judge. He is an Indian American and Muslim American lawyer who has long worked to foster conversations among members of Oregon’s legal community to bridge the gaps between people with different backgrounds and experiences.
  • Nancy Maldonado (nominated for the Seventh Circuit): She will be the first Hispanic judge on the Seventh Circuit. She is already a district court judge. Before that, her career focused largely on representing plaintiffs in employment, civil rights, and fraud cases.
  • Adeel Mangi (nominated for the Third Circuit). He is a Pakistani American lawyer in New Jersey who will become the nation’s first Muslim American appeals court judge. Mangi has a robust pro bono practice that has protected people’s civil rights, including victims of law enforcement violence and Muslims denied a permit to build a mosque.
  • Sarah Russell (nominated for the District of Connecticut). She is a law professor with expertise in criminal justice reform. She also worked as a public defender earlier in her career.

A Long-Term Project 

Over many years, conservative activists have relentlessly pursued their goal of taking over our courts. Undoing the harm they have done will also take years. Fortunately, more and more Americans are aware of how important courts are to their daily lives, and how much it matters who gets selected as federal judges. The progress of the past three years is just the beginning. 

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fair courts, Fighting for Fair Courts