Saturday, June 22, 2024

Politics: New judges are worth celebrating.

January 11, 2023 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( I’ve written about the importance of judges a few times over the last year. And every time I do, I realize that many people have never met a judge. Or they have, but it was at a time when they’d rather have been anywhere else. So the idea that judges are on my mind as something to celebrate this holiday season may strike you as strange. But bear with me.

Since President Biden came into office, he has made it a priority to nominate federal judges who are not only legal stars but are diverse, come from underrepresented professional backgrounds, and have a deep commitment to civil rights. Many of them have been civil rights lawyers or public defenders. This is a real change, even from past Democratic presidents. For decades, presidents most often nominated corporate lawyers or prosecutors to the bench. Those people were also overwhelmingly white and male. Not anymore.


At the federal circuit level, which is the level above the district or trial courts and just below the Supreme Court, 41% of Biden nominees have been Black. So far, more Black women have been confirmed to the circuit court bench than during all previous presidencies combined. At the district level, Biden has nominated people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people of diverse faiths, who are historic “firsts” on their respective courts. Not only that, but we have our first Black woman on the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her presence inspires me every day, even though there are many reasons to be dissatisfied with the Court’s far-right majority.

Thanks to President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, the pace of nominations and confirmations has been fast – very fast. This was critical, because during the Trump presidency, the Far Right raced to confirm as many ultraconservative judges as possible. President Biden is beating Trump’s pace with one of the fastest confirmation processes ever. As I write this, 97 lifetime federal judges have been confirmed in the first two years of Biden’s presidency. Trump had 85 in his first two years. Biden’s pace is the second fastest in a quarter century.

And when the Senate returns in January, there will be a spectacular roster of nominees just waiting for the final step in their confirmation process: people like Nancy Abudu, an advocate for voting rights and civil rights through her work at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU; Natasha Merle, an advocate for racial justice at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Tiffany Cartwright, a civil rights litigator whose cases include police misconduct; and Julie Rikelman, the longtime litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

So why does all this matter? It’s not just because having people from underrepresented communities on our courts is inspiring to see and long overdue. Both of those things are true. It’s because the nominations and confirmations represent the administration’s commitment to building fairer courts overall. The Biden administration is actively seeking out judicial nominees who will improve the quality of decision-making on our courts because of the lived experience they bring. It’s seeking people who have seen the justice system from all sides, in their work or in life. People who are committed to upholding rights for everyone, not just the wealthy or privileged. And already, decisions by fair-minded Biden nominees have improved justice for many Americans in areas like workers’ rights and the environment.

When we have fair judges and fair courts, our lives are dramatically better. Fair courts hold police officers accountable for brutality. Fair courts protect our right to vote and strike down laws aimed at voter suppression. Fair courts protect our jobs, our air and water, and our right to health care, including abortion care. The list goes on and on.

So in addition to celebrating all the great new judges the Biden administration and Senate leadership have given us, there’s one more thing we can do. All of us can call our senators’ offices in January and encourage them to keep up to the momentum by confirming all the rest of the president’s judicial nominees. It’s an easy way to make a difference.

As I’m thinking of things to be thankful for this holiday season, I’m thankful that many of our federal courts really are changing for the better. So many of the rights and freedoms we’ve worked for in the past and will work for in the future depend on this progress. We need to keep it going.

Columnist; Ben Jealous

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