Weekly The Generation, Year 1, Issue 17
December 26, 2023
The White House is gearing up for what could be President Joe Biden’s last chance to put his stamp on the judiciary, as progressive advocates fret that he may fall short of appointing as many judges as former President Donald Trump did over his four-year term.
With a November 2024 election rematch between Biden and his Republican predecessor looking increasingly likely, Senate Democrats are pledging to remain focused on confirming Biden’s judicial nominees in 2024 and adding to the 166 already approved to sit on the bench.
Biden throughout his tenure has sought to fulfill a 2020 campaign pledge to bring greater diversity to the judiciary, whose judges have disproportionately been white men and have usually been ex-prosecutors or former law firm partners. Two-thirds of Biden’s confirmed nominees are people of color, and 108 have been women, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
He has frequently nominated civil rights lawyers and public defenders to the bench, as Democrats aim to counterbalance the conservative influence of Trump’s 234 judicial appointees. But while the Senate confirmed 69 judges in 2023, that number fell below the pace of confirmations during Trump’s third year, when 102 were confirmed.
For several months, the Senate Judiciary Committee struggled to process nominees amid the absence of an ailing panel member, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died in September.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR 2024
Biden could make up for that slow down in 2024. He has announced 30 other nominees who have yet to be confirmed. There are 53 current vacancies on the federal bench awaiting a nominee, and more vacancies are expected. So, he could, in theory at least, still match Trump’s four-year total.
But 22 of the vacancies are in states with one or two Republican senators, who thanks to a Senate custom known as the “blue slip” have the ability to effectively veto nominees from their states they do not approve of and hold seats open for a potential Republican president. “There’s plenty of vacancies, but will he be able to nominate in red states?,” said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial nominations. “That’s the big question.”
The White House in recent months has pointed to successes on that front, with district court judges confirmed in 2023 from Indiana, Idaho and Louisiana and recent nominees pending from Florida, South Carolina and Texas.
Biden closed out 2023 with an announcement that he intended to soon nominate five new judges in states with Republican senators, including two in Texas who have the support of Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.