President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is asking Democratic senators to send in their picks for judicial vacancies promptly, signaling a sense of urgency progressives had sought.
Incoming White House counsel Dana Remus asked for “highly qualified and diverse candidates for U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal, and U.S. District Court nominations” in a Dec. 22 letter to Democratic senators obtained by Bloomberg Law. HuffPost had reported on the letter earlier Wednesday.
Remus asked that senators send in selections for U.S. District Court seats within 45 days of a new vacancy in their state. She also asked that senators send in three names for each current district court vacancy by Jan. 19, the day before the inauguration.
For trial courts, the transition is “particularly focused on nominating individuals whose legal experiences have been historically underrepresented on the federal bench, including those who are public defenders, civil rights and legal aid attorneys, and those who represent Americans in every walk of life,” Remus said.
How much Biden can shape the federal judiciary will depend on the outcome of the Jan. 5 runoffs for two Senate seats in Georgia.
Democrats would need to win both races to win control of the Senate and the nominations process. If the Senate remains under Republican control, however, it could be difficult to get nominees confirmed, as was the case for President Barack Obama.
Either way, Biden will have few appellate court vacancies to fill early in his tenure. During his four years, Trump made judges a priority and the GOP-led Senate confirmed more than 230 of Trump’s judicial picks for lifetime appointments, including three Supreme Court justices.
Democrats have historically lacked that kind of focus on the courts, and progressives were looking for Biden to take a more aggressive approach.
“These are exactly the kind of priorities and processes that we have been pushing for and that will be necessary to rebalance our courts after four years of Trump and McConnell,” Christopher Kang, chief counsel at the progressive Demand Justice, said in an emailed statement.
A transition spokesman said Biden plans to prioritize diversity in ideology and background and will make decisions about appointees based on their experience and qualifications.
Biden “will nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, and appoint judges who share his commitment to the rule of law, and upholding individual civil rights and civil liberties,” Jamal Brown, a transition spokesman, said in an emailed statement.