This week on Capitol Hill, all eyes were on the high-profile and historic confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.
But in the background, Senate Democrats were quietly advancing President Joe Biden’s many other nominees for lifetime seats on the federal court — some of which were also historic.
Democrats stood and affirmed eight of Biden’s court picks as Jackson’s hearing got underway. That’s a huge number of judges to process in a matter of days, and brings Biden’s total number of confirmed judges to 56 – adding to his confirmation record. more federal judges for life than decades of former presidents by this point in their terms.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) took a victory lap on the Senate floor on Thursday, though it was easy to miss with all the attention on the hearing of confirmed by the Supreme Court.
“Yesterday we confirmed six more justices to important positions on the federal bench – and all, I’m happy to say, with bipartisan support,” he said. “We have now confirmed 56 ― 56! ― judges under this Democratic majority in the Senate, and I thank my colleagues for their patience and for keeping up the pace here on the floor last night.
One of the judicial candidates in the mix this week was Alison Nathan, 49, who will now sit on the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals. Nathan has served as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York since 2011, and she previously served as Associate White House counsel for President Barack Obama.
Nathan’s confirmation makes her the second openly lesbian woman to serve on a US appeals court. The first was Justice Beth Robinson, who was just confirmed in november before the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
Biden’s other court nominees confirmed this week were all for U.S. district court seats and reflected a diversity of backgrounds. Among them, Ruth Montenegro, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, was confirmed in US District Court for the Southern District of California. John Chun, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, is the second Asian American federal district court judge in the entire state. Victoria Calvert, now a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, is the second black woman to serve on that court.
Judicial confirmations can seem like a dry subject. But federal judges typically stay in their places for decades and long after the presidents who appointed them have left, and their decisions affect millions of Americans across the country. That’s why a president’s federal judges are often considered his greatest legacy.
Biden has made it a top priority to bring diversity to the federal bench in terms of demographics like race and gender, but also in terms of career paths. His dozens of judicial nominees to date mark a huge departure from the typical white male corporate lawyers who are almost always sought out for lifetime federal judgeships.
So far, Biden’s court choices have included public defenders, suffrage lawyers and union organizersin addition to historic firsts with Native Americans, Black woman, LGBTQ nominees and Muslim Americans. Of the 40 judges he confirmed at the end of 2021, 32 were women, 27 were people of color, 21 were women of color, and 27 had diverse work backgrounds. Fifteen were former public defenders.
Rakim Brooks, president of the progressive legal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, said this week’s confirmed justices continue Biden’s trend of making the nation’s courts better reflect the people they serve.
“It is particularly remarkable how few members of the LGBTQ+ community currently sit on our courts,” Brooks said in a statement. “We are fighting hard to change that and are confident that confirming Alison Nathan, like Beth Robinson before her, will pave the way.”