People For the American Way has created eight fact sheets on important, beneficial decisions involving federal judges nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate. In many of these decisions, Biden judges have reversed bad rulings by Trump trial court judges or ensured that harmful views of Trump appellate judges remain in the minority.
As federal judicial confirmations resume this fall, these fact sheets help show the importance of promptly confirming as many Biden judges as possible to help protect the rights of people across the country.
The eight areas covered include decisions on workers’ rights; environment, health and safety; rights harmed or threatened by the Supreme Court; accountability for Donald Trump and his allies; corporate justice; government misconduct; police abuse and misconduct; and women’s rights against abuse. More detail on these decisions is included in two reports People For has previously released on the work so far of Biden judges: Hope For Our Courts: The Impact of Biden Judges and Biden Judges: A Glimmer of Hope on the Lower Courts.
To download fact sheets, click the “Download Fact Sheet” buttons below.
Biden Judges and Workers’ Rights
Federal courts have a mixed record concerning the rights of workers, all too often siding with employers. Biden judges have already had a major impact, writing or casting deciding votes in a dozen rulings that have helped remedy job discrimination, ensure proper overtime pay, and more. In most of these cases, Biden judges have made the difference between anti-worker rulings by Trump judges and decisions that have helped protect workers’ rights. For the sake of workers’ rights, it is crucial that more fair-minded Biden judges are confirmed to our federal courts.
Biden judges have cast key votes in more than half a dozen cases concerning job discrimination based on race, age, gender, and disability. In addition to helping individual bias victims in those cases, the rulings have set important precedents that will help other victims and hopefully discourage illegal job discrimination.
For example, Sam Stamey had been an electrical worker at an Indiana company for about 10 years. Beginning at around age 61, he contended, he was subjected to a “relentless and ruthless campaign” of age-based harassment including more than “1000 age-based insults” by co-workers without any effective response by management. The harassment included “acts to interfere with Stamey’s work,” such as taping or gluing his tool cabinet shut and driving “screws into the wheels of his wire cart, immobilizing it.” A Trump district judge dismissed Stamey’s lawsuit against the company without a trial.
Biden Seventh Circuit judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi cast the deciding vote to reverse the lower court and send the case back for trial, despite a dissent by another Trump judge. In addition to helping Sam Stamey vindicate his rights, the decision set an important precedent that will help job discrimination victims. The ruling made clear that in cases like Stamey’s where there is disagreement about the facts, judges should not themselves “weigh evidence or resolve conflicting facts,” but should instead leave that “up to the jury” to decide.
Minimum Wages and Overtime
Federal and state laws set standards for minimum wages and required overtime pay, which are particularly important for low-income and low-wage workers. Biden judges have played an important role in several cases that have protected these rights.
For example, Biden First Circuit judge Gustavo Gelpi wrote a unanimous opinion that reversed a lower court ruling denying overtime pay to workers who help provide gas and electricity to some 200,000 customers in New England. Unitil Service, a corporation that operates public utilities, claimed that workers who are dispatchers and controllers should receive no overtime pay, and a lower court agreed. In reversing that ruling, Judge Gelpi wrote that ensuring compliance with overtime requirements is “critical to ensuring worker protections.”
Other Workers’ Rights
Biden judges have also participated in several other cases that have protected workers’ rights. These have included the right to have their unions bargain with employers on important terms of employment and to prevent employers from undermining other job protections.
For example, Judge Gabriel Sanchez, nominated by President Biden to the Ninth Circuit, reversed a lower court ruling that would have significantly limited whistleblower protections for workers under California law. Aaron Killgore blew the whistle when he was directed by his employer to violate federal law in preparing an environmental assessment for a U.S. Army Reserve Command project. He was then fired. The lower court ruled for the corporation. But Sanchez wrote a unanimous opinion that reversed the lower court and gave Killgore the opportunity to prove his case. Correcting the lower court’s errors was crucial, Sanchez went on, to help fulfill the law’s purpose to “encourage workplace whistleblowers to report unlawful acts without fear of retaliation.”
Biden Judges and the Environment, Health & Safety
Right-wing judges often rule for corporate polluters and others that endanger our environment, health and safety. Fortunately, Biden district and appellate judges have acted in half a dozen cases that have helped protect these values. Confirmation of more such fair-minded judges is crucial.
Environment: Biden judges have written opinions that have upheld anti-pollution rules against industry attack and authorized citizens’ lawsuits to help protect the environment. For example, Biden D.C. Circuit judge Michelle Childs wrote an opinion that rejected power companies’ challenge to EPA rules that require them to cut harmful pollution, when that pollution blows across state lines.
In some cases, Biden judges have made the difference between Trump judge rulings in favor of corporations and decisions that have helped protect the environment. For example, a Trump district judge stopped a local environmental group from suing under the Clean Water Act to challenge harmful pollution created by a developer in South Carolina. Biden Fourth Circuit judge Toby Heytens wrote a 2-1 decision that reversed the lower court and authorized the lawsuit to proceed, despite a Trump judge dissent.
Health and Safety
Biden judges have played an important role in several cases concerning health and safety issues related to coal mining. For example, Andy Bailey worked in Tennessee coal mines over a 10-year period, and developed serious health problems. He had both legs amputated due to vascular and circulatory problems, had several heart attacks, and had to be on oxygen. He filed a claim for Black Lung benefit, which was pursued by his widow and was granted by the Department of Labor. But his coal company employer tried to reverse the ruling. Biden Sixth Circuit judge Stephanie Davis cast the deciding vote to uphold the benefits award to his widow.
In another coal mining case, Biden D.C. Circuit judge Michelle Childs wrote a unanimous opinion upholding a fine levied by a federal agency against a mining contractor. The company had agreed it had been negligent and helped create serious hazards for miners, but it claimed the agency had misinterpreted the federal law concerning the amount of the fine. Judge Childs’s opinion rejecting the corporation’s challenge will be important in future cases, including a pending Supreme Court case concerning proper deference to an agency’s interpretation of laws that govern its work.
In an important case concerning public health, two Biden judges rejected a corporation’s challenge to an FDA order that banned it from marketing flavored e-cigarettes. Congress has mandated that the agency can approve marketing e-cigarettes only where it would be “appropriate for the public health,” but the FDA found that instead, the product risks endangering public health by encouraging youth smoking. Biden Second Circuit judge Myrna Perez wrote a unanimous opinion, joined by Biden judge Sarah Merriam, that dismissed the challenge and upheld the FDA ruling.
Biden Judges Protecting Rights Harmed or Threatened by the Supreme Court
We are all too aware that the current right-wing Supreme Court majority has seriously harmed or threatened our rights in several areas, such as abortion and reproductive freedom, gun safety, and affirmative action. Lower courts cannot, of course, overturn such rulings. But lower courts play a crucial role in determining how much damage Supreme Court rulings will cause. That is because they interpret and apply the Court’s holdings, they find facts in cases that the Court may later hear, and the vast majority of cases are resolved by lower courts, not the Supreme Court.
Having fair-minded appellate and district courts apply Supreme Court rulings can thus limit the damage that Supreme Court rulings cause. That’s in contrast to the impact of Trump judges and other far-right lower court judges, who are all too anxious to extend the reach of right-wing Court rulings even further. Biden judges have already had a positive impact in two such areas: gun safety and affirmative action. Confirming more Biden lower court judges is thus very important.
In its 6-3 Bruen decision in 2022, the right-wing majority struck down an important New York gun safety measure, but also prescribed a new test for such laws, mandating that they be consistent with the “history and tradition” of the Second Amendment. Scholars, judges and others have severely criticized this test, but lower court judges must utilize it. In several cases, Biden judges have used the Bruen standard and nevertheless upheld important gun safety laws, reducing the harmful impact of the Court’s ruling. For example:
- Biden judge Regina Rodriguez of the District of Colorado rejected a criminal defendant’s challenge to the long-standing federal law that prohibits people convicted of a felony from possessing firearms. She ruled that the law was constitutional even under the Bruen test.
- Biden judge Lindsay Jenkins preliminarily upheld several important Illinois state and local laws that restrict purchase and possession of dangerous assault weapons that were enacted after a gun massacre outside Chicago. She rejected an attempt to temporarily enjoin the provisions and ruled that they were likely constitutional even under Bruen.
Affirmative action: Many have expressed concern already that the Supreme Court’s harmful 6-3 rulings banning affirmative action in college admissions will also damage even race-neutral efforts to increase racial and other diversity in employment, elsewhere in education, and other areas. Even before the court’s 2023 rulings, however, Biden judges played crucial roles in several cases that have rejected such challenges. Specifically:
- Biden judge Toby Heytens of the Fourth Circuit cast the deciding vote in a ruling that upheld an admissions policy at a specialized Virginia high school that seeks to increase student body diversity. A dissenting Trump judge would have affirmed a lower court ruling that struck down the policy.
- Biden judge Jennifer Rochon of the Southern District of New York dismissed a right-wing challenge to a Pfizer fellowship program that uses affirmative action to promote employment diversity. The case is now on appeal.
The right-wing Supreme Court majority may well review some of these decisions, but so far, Biden judges have helped prevent further damage from the Court’s restrictive rulings. Information on all such cases so far involving Biden judges can be found here.
Biden Judges and Accountability for Donald Trump and His Allies
Cases concerning efforts to hold former President Trump and his allies accountable for misconduct are increasingly appearing on federal court dockets around the country. Appellate judges nominated by President Biden have played an important role in three such cases so far, including one that upheld a key legal theory used in the latest indictment against Trump. Judges nominated by Trump dissented in several of these cases.
In an April decision by Judge Florence Pan, who was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Biden, the court ruled that the federal law against “corruptly obstruct[ing]” an “official proceeding” of the federal government can be used to prosecute rioters who disrupted the 2020 election certification process on January 6. The decision reversed a holding by a Trump district judge and drew a dissent from a Trump appellate judge, who argued that the law only applies where the disruption involves destruction or other interference involving documents. Election law expert Rick Hasen suggested that the law could similarly be used to prosecute Donald Trump for his attempted obstruction of the 2020 election certification. Sure enough, the latest criminal indictment of Trump does exactly that. Trump will likely challenge this use of the law along the lines accepted by several Trump judges, but Judge Pan’s ruling sets an important precedent.
In another DC appellate case, Biden judges Pan and Michelle Childs were two of the three judges who ordered in March that Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran immediately produce documents sought by Special Counsel Jack Smith. Smith sought the materials in connection with his probe into Trump’s misconduct concerning classified documents. Corcoran complied with the order, and the indictment of Trump concerning classified documents was issued several months later.
In an earlier case last year, Biden judge Toby Heytens of the Fourth Circuit wrote a decision holding that people who take part in an insurrection as on January 6 can be barred from holding public office under section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. That ruling overturned one by a Trump district judge. The case concerned efforts by North Carolina citizens to prevent Madison Cawthorne, who had participated in the insurrection and was running for reelection, from running for office under section 3. A partial dissent by a Trump judge would have allowed lower courts to “stonewall” such efforts by citizens.
These cases provide concrete illustration of the importance of having fair-minded federal court judges on the bench as the courts consider issues relating to accountability for Donald Trump and his allies. We must all work to help confirm more of these Biden nominees to our federal courts.
Biden Judges and Corporate Justice
When we have fair courts, we can stand as equals with even the most powerful corporation. But our courts are not always fair. Wealthy interests have poured millions of dollars into capturing our courts and getting judges who will find ways to rule in corporations’ favor. President Biden’s judges are beginning to undo the damage.
Defective Building Materials
Ravi Salhotra sued a company whose connectors had damaged his home. (Connectors bind a house’s frame to the concrete foundation.) He had an expert ready to testify that the connectors’ design was defective. That meant many other homeowners had also been harmed by them, so Salhotra filed a class action suit, which allows for a big enough case to be consequential for the company that caused the harm . But the trial court judge blocked the expert from testifying and, as a result, denied class action status.
On appeal, Ninth Circuit Biden Judge Lucy Koh cast the deciding vote to reverse the lower court. She said it was up to the jury, not the trial judge, to decide if the expert’s testimony was reliable. This decision came over the dissent of Trump judge Eric Miller and benefits millions of consumers.
When Matthew Dickson filed a class action lawsuit against a company for unwanted telemarketing, Sixth Circuit Biden Judge Stephanie Davis allowed the case to proceed. She rejected the company’s claim that its abusive and annoying telemarketing practice was legal.
In another case, a Biden judge protected victims of investment fraud. Tenth Circuit Judge Veronica Rossman cast the deciding vote to let a nationwide class action lawsuit go to trial. She rejected the defendant company’s argument, which would have made it harder for wronged investors to have their day in court.
For instance, Dewitt Coates was injured when his rental scooter’s brakes failed. The rental company and manufacturer claimed his injuries were not their fault because Coates had been illegally riding on the sidewalk when the brakes failed. Northern District of Georgia Judge Sarah Geraghty rejected that argument, which would have given companies a loophole to avoid accountability for their faulty vehicles.
Without fair courts, people can even lose their homes to businesses that don’t follow the law. For instance, homeowner Angela Ruckman claimed that her lender’s lawyers made misrepresentations when trying to foreclose on her house. Northern District of Ohio Judge Bridget Brennan rejected the law firm’s narrow interpretation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which would have significantly reduced protections that Congress gave to borrowers.
Biden Judges Against Government Misconduct and Mistreatment
For a democracy to remain strong, government employees must comply with the laws. In nations where officials engage in abusive misconduct with impunity, people are not truly free. The courts play a vital role in holding officials accountable. We need fair-minded judges who understand the importance of protecting the rights of all people. The judges that President Biden has named are making a difference in the lives of victims of government officials’ misconduct. Their rulings are also setting precedents that protect all of us.
False Criminal Charges
For instance, environmental activist Rosalie Chilcoat sued county officials in Utah for filing criminal charges against her as retaliation for her political activity. A trial court dismissed her case, and she appealed. Tenth Circuit Judge Veronica Rossman wrote the opinion letting her lawsuit proceed, over the dissent of a Trump judge. This case sets up important protections for people engaged in political activity challenging those in power.
Threat from a Town Commissioner
Patricia MacIntosh faced retaliation of a different sort: She attended a virtual meeting of the Travis County (Michigan) Commission and asked them to condemn the Proud Boys and other violent groups. In response, a commissioner took out a high-powered rifle, showed it to the camera, and smirked. She sued the commissioner for intimidating her and trying to violate her freedom of speech. Sixth Circuit Judge Stephanie Davis cast the deciding vote rejecting the commissioner’s effort to dismiss the case.
Lies from a Fire Inspector
Michael Borochov claimed he was targeted for his religion, rather than his politics. He and his company were harmed when a Honolulu fire inspector falsely told a client of Borochov that he had failed an inspection. There was evidence that the inspector had been motivated by anti-Semitism. Biden Ninth Circuit Judge Gabriel Sanchez cast the deciding vote to let Borochov sue the inspector, over the dissent of a Trump judge.
Unfair Dismissal of Graduate Student
Arebe Taylor’s case involved racial motivations for mistreatment. An immigrant originally from Sierra Leone, Taylor was a public health graduate student at the University of Georgia. Two faculty members failed to assign him a faculty advisory committee, then dismissed him from the program altogether. He sued, and Northern District of Georgia Judge Sarah Geraghty ruled that he had enough evidence of racial discrimination to proceed to trial.
Tainted Appeals Process
Troy Ray Emanuel became the victim of a tainted appeals process. After he was sentenced to 35 years, he claimed that his two defense lawyers had given him ineffective assistance of counsel. When he appealed the sentence, the state court appointed one of those same lawyers to represent him. This created a severe conflict of interest. The lawyer filed an appeal for Emanuel that left out any mention of his own poor representation. Ninth Circuit Judge Lucy Koh allowed Emanuel to file a federal lawsuit against this tainted process, over the dissent of a Trump judge. Her decision helps promote fairness in appeals of criminal convictions.
These are just a few examples of how Biden judges are giving victims of government misconduct their fair day in court.
Biden Judges and Police and Law Enforcement Abuse and Misconduct
Perhaps no power imbalance in society is as fraught with danger as that between an individual and law enforcement officials. Too often, police and prison officials abuse their power and even commit acts of brutality with impunity, with Black and brown people disproportionately targeted for mistreatment. The decisions of fair-minded Biden judges are not only bringing justice to individuals, they are also creating disincentives for future abusive conduct.
Medical Care for People in Custody
Biden judges are playing a vital role in protecting people in custody who risk being denied access to necessary health care. People in custody are uniquely vulnerable to the whims of those in charge and often lack the ability to get help. For instance, in Mercer v. Athens County, Sixth Circuit Biden Judge Andre Mathis wrote an important decision clarifying the duty of care that medical officials in jails owe to pretrial detainees. Jennifer Ohlinger’s family will have the chance to sue a jail nurse for providing inadequate care after she had seizures, leading to her death. His ruling will help sick individuals and their families hold jail employees accountable when that care is not provided.
In the Seventh Circuit, Biden Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi wrote a 2-1 decision protecting the rights of incarcerated people to adequate medical care. Her opinion gave Richard White a chance to persuade a jury that prison officials had shown deliberate indifference to his heath by not properly responding to his complaints of a swollen knee for two years. The dissenting Trump judge would have denied him a trial and set a damaging precedent.
Police/Government Abuse of Power
Too many people face abusive misconduct from law enforcement during searches, arrests, and prosecutions. Fourth Circuit Judge Toby Heytens wrote an opinion that protects millions of people from government abuse at airports. Erin Osmon accused a TSA screener in Asheville, N.C., of forcing her to spread her legs and then fondling her genitals during an airport search. Reversing a lower court, Fourth Circuit Biden judge Toby Heytens wrote a panel opinion holding that wrongdoing by TSA employees is covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). That law has long been an important remedy for people harmed by federal employees. Law enforcement officials also have to be held accountable when they fabricate evidence. Biden Second Circuit Judge Eunice Lee wrote a decision allowing Tommy Barnes to sue police officers for lying to prosecutors about him. They had falsely reported seeing him selling drugs, which led to a prosecution for that charge. The dissenting Trump judge would have dismissed the suit, since the police could have legitimately held him on the lesser charge of possessing the drugs. Judge Lee’s opinion will help people hold police accountable for fabricating evidence. Just as importantly, it will hopefully discourage officials from this type of abusive conduct in the future.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline
The earlier the school-to-prison pipeline can be disrupted, the better. Young people in South Carolina are benefiting from Fourth Circuit Judge Toby Heytens’s majority opinion striking down a state law that criminalized “disorderly” or “disturbing” conduct in schools. The law’s vagueness made it ripe for abuse. Judge Heytens understood that retaining records of such cases could unfairly derail promising careers for young people.
Cases like these are just the beginning. To make sure that law enforcement officials who abuse their power are held accountable, it is essential to fill vacancies around the country with fair-minded judge like those being nominated by President Biden.
Biden Judges Vindicate Women’s Rights Against Assault and Mistreatment
Content Warning: The following report contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault. Please use discretion before reading this report.
Biden appellate judges have cast critical votes that ensured women would have their day in court against perpetrators of rape, sexual assault and sex-based discrimination. The decisions, one of which drew a dissent from a Trump judge, will also help other survivors and could deter such misconduct in the future. They illustrate the important role that Biden judges are playing to help protect women’s rights, and the importance of promptly confirming more fair-minded Biden judicial nominees.
Biden Seventh Circuit judge Doris Pryor cast the deciding vote that allowed a sex trafficking victim and her mother to sue a corporation that participated in the awful scheme. A woman identified as GG fell into the hands of a sex trafficker when she was 13. He forced her to engage in “commercial sex” and advertised her availability on Backpage.com, a notorious website used for “sex trafficking and pimping.” Backpage’s work was significantly helped by the software company Salesforce.com, which designed Backpage’s software and helped it grow exponentially before the Justice Department shut it down.
Under a law passed by Congress, GG and her mother sued Salesforce for damages for its participation in the sex trafficking. But the lower court and a dissenting Trump judge maintained that the corporation could not be sued because there was no allegation that it knew specifically that GG was a victim of the scheme. This would have “severely undermined” the law in “some of the most egregious cases.” Judge Pryor cast the deciding vote in a 2-1 decision that reversed the lower court and allowed GG and her mother to get their day in court against Salesforce. The decision will also help other sex trafficking survivors and hopefully help deter corporations from participating in such egregious misconduct.
Biden Second Circuit judge Allison Nathan wrote a unanimous opinion, joined by Biden judge Eunice Lee, that reversed a lower court and gave a survivor the opportunity to pursue a sexual abuse case against a former ICE agent who raped and abused her over a seven-year period. Identified as Jane Doe, the woman is a legal US resident from Honduras who was assaulted d by an ICE agent, treated as “his slave,” and threatened with deportation and other abuse. The sexual assaults caused the survivor to suffer numerous injuries, three pregnancies that were terminated via abortion, three attempted suicides, and emotional and psychological trauma. The agent kept her silent via physical violence and deportation threats, including a threat to kill her if she told anyone what had happened .
Doe finally overcame her fear and filed suit against the agent and the government about four years after the misconduct ceased. The lower court dismissed the case as untimely under the statute of limitations. Nathan and Lee’s opinion reversed and sent the case back for reconsideration, explaining that the district court should have specifically considered the very “plausible” conclusion that “years of violent sexual abuse and threats to her life constituted an extraordinary circumstance preventing Doe from sooner pursuing her claims.” In addition to giving Doe an opportunity to get justice, the decision sets an important precedent that will help other sexual assault survivors.
In another case involving sexual abuse, a Biden judge’s opinion reversed a lower court and gave a woman who was assaulted by a TSA screener her day in court to pursue claims against the government.
Gender Bias and Discrimination
Biden appellate judges have also played a crucial role in a number of other cases protecting women’s rights. These include, for example, a deciding vote by a Biden judge reversing a Trump district court ruling and giving a Vanderbilt professor her day in court to pursue a gender bias claim and another deciding vote by a Biden judge that authorized a Black woman to proceed with a Title VII retaliation claim despite a Trump judge dissent. Particularly in light of the continuing impact of right-wing Trump judges, confirming more fair-minded Biden judges is crucial to help protect women’s rights.