Biden’s judicial picks reflect nation’s diversity

Asignificant development flew mostly under the radar last year: The Biden-Harris administration nominated 73 federal judges in 2021, and the Senate confirmed 42 of them. It was a resoundingly successful year for filling federal court vacancies — and an even greater success in terms of the diversity of the candidates.

Federal court judges with life tenure have enormous potential to shape the laws and legal systems that impact our lives on a daily basis. They issue decisions related to nearly every public policy subject matter, from health care to voting rights to environmental justice.


Filling vacancies on federal courts is one of a president’s most important duties, with an impact that endures for decades. Similarly, even when the legislative process is at a near standstill, the Senate can have a profound impact on our laws and legal systems by prioritizing the confirmation of judicial nominees.

The Biden-Harris administration has shown a commitment not just to filling judicial vacancies, but to doing so with diverse candidates. Their goal is to achieve a federal judiciary that actually reflects the diversity of the public.

Under the previous administration, judicial vacancies were also filled at a rapid pace, but with conservative judges who were largely young, white men, compounding the judiciary’s lack of diversity. After the Trump administration’s appointments, according to a database run by the Federal Judicial Center, nearly 74% of the nation’s federal court judges were white, and 67% were men. This is wildly out of step with representing the current U.S. population.

In contrast, a substantial majority of Biden’s already confirmed judges have been women, and a majority have been people of color. This is historic. Even the 334 judges appointed during the Obama administration were majority white and majority male.

As a result of Biden’s confirmed judges, the federal judiciary is now approximately 71% white and 65% male. Still problematic, but the numbers are moving in the right direction, with much work left to be done.

Biden’s nominees have also shown historic professional diversity. Prior administrations have primarily nominated individuals with backgrounds dominated by corporate and/or prosecutorial experience. To reflect the diversity of the U.S. population, federal judges need to reflect diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Of the Biden administration’s 73 nominees, 20 have spent time as public defenders; 21 have spent time doing plaintiffs’ side, civil rights and/or legal aid work; and 10 were law professors or legal scholars.

Looking ahead, I hope we see more attorneys nominated who have experience representing labor.

It is critical that the judiciary reflect the diversity of the U.S. in order to give all Americans more confidence in our federal judicial system. President Biden’s judicial nominees are a strong step forward.

Looking ahead, the Biden-Harris administration must maintain its historic commitment to demographic and professional diversity.

It must also keep up its pace of judicial nominations during this uncertain window of time it has left to fill vacancies with a minimally obstructive Senate.

Similarly, the Senate should keep its foot on the gas in confirming qualified and diverse judicial candidates. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the Senate Judiciary Committee have done a stellar job moving forward judicial nominees so far.

This commitment to the federal courts could be a defining legacy for this administration and Senate.

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