People For the American Way Foundation

President Biden Deserves a Well-Earned Victory Lap on Judges


First published in The Hill.

President Biden’s annual State of the Union address is now just a little over three weeks away. That might seem like plenty of time for wordsmithing, but behind the scenes, the White House is already working feverishly to decide what gets into the speech and what doesn’t make the cut. And they’re hearing opinions from lots of people.

So let me add my contribution to the mix.

President Biden has an excellent opportunity in the State of the Union to take credit for his record in filling the federal courts with exceptionally talented, fair-minded judges with a commitment to equal justice, and I’d love to see him take it.

It’s a chance to take a well-earned victory lap, thank the Senate under the leadership of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for their work in confirming these nominees — and urge them to continue prioritizing judicial confirmations in the months ahead.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court is just one of the highlights.

As of Feb. 6, this administration has placed 177 lifetime judges on the federal bench.

Of these, record numbers are women, people of color, and people who are historic “firsts” or “onlies”: The first individuals from an underrepresented community to serve on their particular bench. Right now, more than one-third of all Black women federal judges in U.S. history have been nominated by Biden.  At the appellate court level, President Biden has named more Black women to the circuit courts (13) than all of his predecessors combined (eight).

Professional diversity is also strong; no longer are federal judges coming primarily from the ranks of corporate America. Public defenders and civil rights attorneys are finally getting a full opportunity to sit on the bench.

It’s hard to overstate how much this means for the average person having their day in court. For regular people like you and me, a day in court is likely to be one of the worst days of our lives and a day when we are at our most vulnerable. Biden judges bring lived, diverse experience to the bench. Their experience helps them stand in the shoes of people seeking justice.

They also happen to be highly seasoned and accomplished, with deep commitments to civil rights. Biden judges are now moving the needle on American jurisprudence, making landmark rulings on gun safety, abortion, the environment, workers’ rights and more.

Of course, the competition for airtime in the State of the Union this year will be fierce. It always is, so these speeches have been known for decades as “laundry lists.”  This year, there’s a lot for President Biden to take credit for, including all that he has done to strengthen our economy. And there are serious issues the administration is grappling with daily, including immigration reform and questions of U.S. policy in the Mideast and Ukraine.

But our courts touch far too many aspects of people’s daily lives to be overlooked. Ask anyone confronting the challenges of obtaining abortion care after the decisions made by the Supreme Court, and the lower federal courts in its wake.

As a kid, I used to enjoy looking up famous speeches in U.S. history to see what made them great. I learned the best speeches are not about easy topics, whether you’re talking about the Gettysburg Address or Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s speech after the assassination of Dr. King.

The justice system isn’t simple or easy to talk about. But President Biden understands the importance of the courts in our daily lives, which is why he has invested so much of his administration’s efforts in filling the courts with exceptional judges. The State of the Union gives him a chance to speak movingly about courts and the difference he has made — and hopes to continue to make — through his judicial appointments.

You can’t underestimate the power of well-chosen words to make complex subjects come to life. A great State of the Union address can do that.

I can hear the applause now.


Biden judges, judges, President Biden