With the Senate back for the new year, it is a good time to focus on the significant work ahead in 2024 to advance the confirmation of fair-minded judges on our federal courts.
Momentum from 2023
Both the White House and the Senate can build momentum from a successful 2023. Last year, the Senate confirmed 69 lifetime federal judges. That’s more than in either 2021 or 2022, and it got President Biden to a total of 166.
As good as that is, Biden has fallen behind where Presidents Donald Trump, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were at this point in their presidencies. Fortunately, with a dedicated focus on repairing our courts, the Senate can overtake those predecessors by confirming 28 Biden judges before their spring recess at the end of March.
Not just the numbers
But the importance of the judiciary is about more than numbers. What made Trump’s record-breaking confirmation rate noteworthy was how many dangerously unqualified people got onto the bench – and how many innocent people have been hurt as a result. Many of Trump’s nominees had a history of targeting vulnerable populations, working to deprive people of their rights, and making it harder for us to choose our leaders in free and fair elections. Now those nominees have lifetime positions that they are abusing to hurt people in a new capacity.
Unlike Trump, President Biden is selecting people whose records show that they are fair-minded individuals dedicated to protecting the rights of everyone. They are an inspiring group including people with backgrounds in civil rights, indigent criminal defense, abortion and reproductive healthcare, and the rights of working people.
And they are helping people. In areas as varied as abortion and reproductive freedom, gun safety, the environment and health, workers’ rights, and voting rights and democracy, Biden judges are having an enormous impact on people’s lives.
President Biden has renominated a number of individuals who the Senate should promptly confirm. Below are just some of these exciting nominees:
Nicole Berner (Fourth Circuit) will add critically important professional and experiential diversity to the bench. Berner has represented organized labor at SEIU since 2006. Before that, she represented Planned Parenthood, protecting access to abortion and other reproductive care. When she is confirmed, Berner will be the first openly LGBTQ+ person on the Fourth Circuit.
Adeel Mangi (Third Circuit) was born in Pakistan and is the first Muslim American ever nominated to a federal appeals court. He has done numerous cases for free to protect people’s rights. For instance, he represented the family of an incarcerated mentally ill man killed by New York prison guards. He also represented Muslims in two New Jersey cities who were illegally denied permits to build mosques by local authorities.
Mustafa Kasubhai (District Court, Oregon) has been on the bench as a state judge and a federal magistrate judge since 2007. He is a cisgender man who invites people in his courtroom to say which honorific they prefer, so as not to misgender them. Judge Kasubhai says he does this because “society is only as civilized as our capacity to appreciate and support those who are the most vulnerable.”
Sarah Russell (District Court, Connecticut) is a brilliant attorney with expertise in criminal justice (including juvenile sentencing reform) who has dedicated her career to helping indigent people have legal representation. She exemplifies the commitment to justice and fairness that all judges should have.
Eumi Lee (Northern District of California) has been a state judge in Alameda County since 2018. Before that, she taught law school clinic programs for students to represent low-income tenants, low- and moderate-wage workers, indigent individuals with physical and mental-health disabilities, and people with past arrests or convictions seeking to have their records expunged. She has also written on important issues like barriers to successful reentry for formerly incarcerated people. When confirmed, she will be only the third AAPI woman to be a judge in the Northern District.
Filling all the vacancies
Another important focus is on filling vacancies that do not yet have nominees. Especially at the district court level, senators generally exercise significant influence over who gets nominated to be a federal judge in their state. So when senators learn of an upcoming vacancy, they should move quickly to identify potential nominees to recommend to the White House.
There are currently 58 judicial vacancies without nominees: 23 from blue states, 28 from red states, 6 from purple states, and one from DC.
Just three months ago, this partisan imbalance was far greater. Of the 17 district court nominations during the last quarter of 2023, 14 were from red states: Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This shows a determined focus by the White House on consulting with all home state senators, regardless of party, and that Republican senators can, when they wish, work cooperatively with the Biden administration to fill federal courts with qualified individuals.
Yet much work remains to be done. We still have too many longstanding vacancies without nominees, especially in southern and midwestern states.
By the end of the year, the White House and Senate should not leave any vacancy unfilled.
What can you do?
To help get Biden judges confirmed, you can call your senators, write a letter to the editor, take action on social media, and more.
Our courts play a vital role in protecting our lives, our health, our jobs, and our freedom to elect leaders of our choice. But the nomination and confirmation of good judges won’t continue without elected officials hearing from their constituents that this matters to them. Without your enthusiasm and your efforts, this progress won’t happen.