The first of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees were easily confirmed on Tuesday, beginning what Democrats who control the Senate have promised will be a fast-moving effort to approve his picks to the federal bench.
Neals and Rodriguez were selected for judgeships by Barack Obama but never received votes in the Senate then controlled by Republicans. This time around, Neals got 17 GOP votes and Rodriguez 22.
Senate action comes more than four months after Biden took office pledging to appoint a slate of judges exhibiting diversity along racial, gender, and professional lines. There are 111 current and expected vacancies for lifetime federal judgeships that Biden can fill.
“Under this Democratic majority, the Senate will swiftly and consistently confirm president Biden’s appointments to the federal bench, bringing balance, experience, and diversity back to the judiciary. Mr. Neals and Ms. Rodriguez are two great examples,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.
Neals, who is Black, was among Biden’s initial list of judicial nominees in March. He was previously counsel and acting county administrator for Bergen County, New Jersey.
Rodriguez, who is Latina and Asian-American, is a former federal prosecutor and Big Law attorney. Her initial recommendation from her home state senators sparked backlash from progressives because of her corporate law ties.
After the confirmations Tuesday, Schumer teed up a votes to limit debate on Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Ketanji Brown Jackson and District of New Jersey nominee Zahid Quraishi. Jackson is considered a top contender if a vacancy arises on the Supreme Court. The Judiciary Committee advanced her nomination, 13-9, in May. Biden has pledged to appoint a Black woman to the high court, if he gets the chance.
Republican President Donald Trump made more than 230 judicial appointments in remaking the courts with conservatives in four years. He prioritized the appellate courts and filled every vacancy for that level at one point.
Post-election retirements increased the number of vacancies Biden has available to fill. He’s so far nominated 19 people to lifetime federal judicial appointments and one nominee to the D.C. Superior Court. Three nominees, including Jackson, await confirmation votes.