There’s not a lot of good news coming out of the Biden administration these days. Sen. Joe Manchin just sank the president’s key legislative measure (and possibly his presidency). The omicron COVID variant threatens to disrupt the economic recovery. Inflation is looming larger in Americans’ consciousness than it has for decades.
But for all of those dark clouds, there is one bright spot as Biden closes in on his first year in office. He’s pushed through a record number of judicial appointees.
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So far, the Senate has confirmed 40 of Biden’s nominees to the federal bench, a pace not seen since the first year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Moreover, the nominees are very diverse. Among the 40 appointees are four black women. The previous record for black women appointed to the bench was three nominees in eight years. Biden got four confirmed in eight months.
The nominees also included two out women. Shortly after Beth Robinson became the first out judge on a federal appellate court, Biden nominated Alison Nathan to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit. (Nathan is currently the presiding judge in the Ghisela Maxwell trial.)
The success is a concerted effort by Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to build what the Washington Post calls “a conveyor belt of candidates,” with Schumer putting confirmation of the nominees ahead of other priorities.
The push is also in sharp contrast to Barack Obama’s presidency. At this point in his first year, Obama had only appointed ten federal judges, the lowest number of any president since Reagan. Obama was frequently criticized for failing to pay enough attention to filling judicial vacancies early in his term.
Unfortunately, Biden’s success is just a counterbalance to all the damage caused by Donald Trump. One of the worst legacies of the Trump administration was the huge number of right-wing judges that he appointed to the federal bench.
Trump’s appointees often had a long-standing and vicious record of attacking LGBTQ rights and were often minimally qualified for their jobs. One example: Steven Menashi, who had never even tried a case and who complained about “the incipient normalization” of gender reassignment surgery. Confirmed by the Senate at age 40, Menashi will have decades to rule against LGBTQ rights.
How much longer Biden has to get his nominees on the bench is uncertain. Should he lose control of the Senate–which is sadly likely–Republicans will simply refuse to confirm most of his choices. They’ll be betting on a whole bunch of empty spots to fill in 2025, when they expect a Republican president to take over. It’s scary to think that it might be Donald Trump all over again.