Bloomberg Law
Sept. 14, 2022, 4:35 PMUpdated: Sept. 14, 2022, 6:05 PM

Biden Sets Record for Public Defenders on Circuit Courts (1)

Madison Alder
Madison Alder

The Senate confirmed Rhode Island Public Defender Lara Montecalvo to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, marking Biden’s sixth confirmed circuit judge with a public defense background.

Montecalvo’s 52-47 confirmation on Wednesday gives Biden the most former public defenders confirmed to circuit courts of any president, progressive judicial advocacy group Demand Justice said. He edges out Barack Obama’s five former defenders over his two terms, the group said.

Biden has prioritized demographic and professional diversity in his judicial selections. Those efforts have included scores of nominees with backgrounds in public defense, which hasn’t historically been common for federal judges compared with prosecutors, for instance.

As Biden latest public defender appointed to a circuit court, Montecalvo joins the ranks of Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, Eunice Lee, Veronica Rossman, and Gustavo Gelpí. Ketanji Brown Jackson was Biden’s first former public defender circuit court appointee before she was elevated to the Supreme Court.

Biden and Senate Democrats could have hit the record Tuesday if not for the surprising defeat of Arianna Freeman’s confirmation to the Third Circuit—a first for a Biden judicial nominee. Freeman is a managing attorney with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The vote on Freeman’s confirmation failed 47-50 with two Democrats absent. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, immediately filed a motion to reconsider. Freeman is expected to eventually be confirmed, albeit narrowly.

At least one other former public defender appellate nominee could also come closer to confirmation Wednesday.

After Montecalvo’s confirmation, the Senate voted 52-47 to invoke cloture, or end debate, on Second Circuit nominee Sarah A. L. Merriam, who was an assistant federal public defender for the District of Connecticut before becoming a US magistrate and US district judge.

(Adds cloture vote in final paragraph.)

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