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Biden’s Latest Judicial Picks Include Three Public Defenders (3)

May 12, 2021, 1:32 PMUpdated: May 12, 2021, 6:17 PM

President Joe Biden nominated a diverse group of six federal district and circuit court judges, including three appeals court picks with experience as public defenders.

The nominees announced Wednesday are in line with Biden’s promise to select judges that would diversify the federal courts in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, and job experience. Five of the six intended picks are women, at least five are people of color.

If confirmed, the list includes what would be the second Hispanic judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Gustavo A. Gelpí; the second Black woman to serve on the Second Circuit, Eunice C. Lee; and the first American Indian federal judge in Washington State, Lauren J. King.

The inclusion of three circuit court picks with backgrounds as public defenders was cheered by progressives, who have been pushing for a diversity of experience on the bench. Just 1% of circuit court judges have spent the majority of their careers as public defenders or within a legal aid setting, according to a August 2020 Center for American Progress study.

Gelpí, who is chief judge of the District of Puerto Rico and an appointee of George W. Bush, was an assistant federal public defender early in his career. Lee is currently an assistant federal defender with the Federal Defenders of New York. And Biden’s nominee for the Tenth Circuit, Veronica S. Rossman, is currently a senior counsel to the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming.

“President Biden has made clear that the days of public defenders being systematically passed over for top jobs on the federal bench are over,” said Christopher Kang chief counsel of the progressive group Demand Justice.

The other two picks are Angel Kelley, who ise nominated to the District of Massachusetts, and Karen M. Williams, who is nominated to the District of New Jersey. Kelley would be the second Black and second Asian judge on the federal trial court in Massachusetts. Williams would be the first Black trial court judge to sit in the Camden courthouse of the District of New Jersey.

The nominees bring Biden’s total list of proposed nominees to lifetime federal judicial appointments to 19 plus one nominee to the D.C. Superior Court. There are currently 105 current and expected vacancies for lifetime federal judgeships, of which 14 are in circuit courts and 89 are in district courts. The nominations were sent to the Senate Wednesday, where they await action by the Judiciary Committee.

Nominations Moving

The announcement came ahead of the second Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Biden’s judicial nominees.

The committee heard testimony from two of Biden’s nominees to the District of Maryland, Deborah L. Boardman, a magistrate judge for the district, and Lydia Kay Griggsby, a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Both nominees received questions from few senators and little pushback.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is also scheduled to consider the nominations of five of Biden’s judicial nominees on Thursday for the first time, including Biden’s D.C. Circuit nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. It is common practice for nominees to be held over for one week the first time they’re under consideration at a Senate Judiciary markup.

(Updated to reflect that nominations were officially sent to the Senate.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at