People For the American Way

The Work to Restore Our Federal Courts Continues in High Gear

News and Analysis
The Work to Restore Our Federal Courts Continues in High Gear

Two days after Labor Day, President Biden announced his seventh slate of highly qualified judicial nominees. With all the pressing issues facing the administration and Congress this fall – including the lawless Texas abortion ban, the continuing assaults on people’s right to vote, the ongoing resistance to measures to stem the resurgence of COVID – it says a great deal that the White House continues to recognize the importance of restoring our federal courts.

The latest slate includes three nominees for the Ninth Circuit:

  • Judge Holly A. Thomas has served as a California family law judge since 2018. She has a strong civil rights background, having spent several years at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Judge Thomas would be the second Black woman ever on the Ninth Circuit (and the first from California).
  • Judge Lucy H. Koh would be the first Korean-American woman to serve as a federal appellate judge. She was nominated by President Obama in 2016 and approved by the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 13-7 vote, but then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to schedule a confirmation vote. Currently a district court judge, her record includes protecting the integrity of the 2020 Census against the Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage it.
  • Justice Gabriel P. Sanchez has served as a judge in California since 2018. Before becoming a judge, he served as an aide to then-Gov. Jerry Brown and helped draft and implement 2016’s Proposition 57, which eased the state’s “tough on crime” laws. In 2010, his pro bono work for farm workers earned him the ACLU of Southern California’s Social Justice Award.

President Biden also announced several nominees for district court vacancies in California, New Mexico, and Minnesota. They include  California Judge Hernán D. Vera, a California attorney with extensive experience at a pro bono public interest law firm, and who engaged in civil rights work at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) earlier in his legal career; David Herrera Urias, a New Mexico plaintiffs’ attorney in civil rights, employment, and personal injury cases who also was a civil rights attorney with MALDEF; and U.S. Magistrate Judge Kate M. Menendez, who spent nearly 20 years of her career as a public defender in Minnesota before being tapped by the federal judges there to serve as a magistrate judge.

While the Biden White House continues to make judicial nominations, the Democratic-controlled Senate continues to process them. Next week, the Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings for Jennifer Sung (Ninth Circuit) and Beth Robinson (Second Circuit), two nominees with strong records defending people’s rights. At the same time, Majority Leader Schumer has teed up cloture votes for three nominees, including for the Tenth Circuit (public defender Veronica Rossman).

President Biden has been in office less than eight months, and he has already had nine judicial nominees confirmed. Not since the 1970s has the Senate confirmed this many judges this early in a president’s term.

Nominations to the federal courts are not separate from the many other issues before our elected officials. People in Texas seeking to obtain or facilitate abortion care are living in terror of bounty hunters because Trump Supreme Court justices let that state’s lawless edict go into effect. Similarly, because of the far-right Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, laws restricting voting rights in states with a history of racial discrimination are allowed to go into effect immediately without the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance protection. When they function properly, our federal courts serve as a vital check against lawless abuses of power such as these.

Americans have a lot of work to do to strengthen our democracy. Restoring the federal courts is an indispensable part of that work. And that means continuing to nominate and confirm people with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights to the federal bench.


Gabriel Sanchez, Holly Thomas, judicial nominations, Lower Federal Courts, Lucy Koh, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals