WASHINGTON (AP) — For the Biden White House, a quartet of four female judges in Colorado encapsulates its mission when it comes to the federal judiciary.
Charlotte Sweeney is the first openly LGBT woman to serve on the federal bench west of the Mississippi River and has a background in workers' rights. Nina Wang, an immigrant from Taiwan, is the first magistrate judge in the state to be elevated to a federal district seat.
Regina Rodriguez, who is Latina and Asian American, served in a U.S. attorney's office. Veronica Rossman, who came from the former Soviet Union with her family as refugees, is the first former federal public defender to be a judge on the 10th Circuit.
With these four women, who were confirmed during the first two years of President Joe Biden's term, there is a breadth of personal and professional diversity that the White House and Democratic senators have promoted in their push to transform the judiciary.
“The nominations send a powerful message to the legal community that this kind of public service is open to a lot of people it wasn’t open to before," Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, told The Associated Press. "What it says to the public at large is that if you wind up in federal court for whatever reason, you’re much more likely to have a judge who understands where you came from, who you are, and what you’ve been through.”
Klain said that "having a more diverse federal bench in every single respect shows more respect for the American people.”
The White House and Democratic senators are closing out the first two years of Biden's presidency having installed more federal judges than did Biden's two immediate predecessors. The rapid clip reflects a zeal to offset Donald Trump's legacy of stacking the judiciary with young conservatives who often lacked in racial diversity.
So far, 97 lifetime federal judges have been confirmed under Biden, a figure that outpaces both Trump (85) and Barack Obama (62) at this point in their presidencies, according to data from the White House and the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. D-N.Y. The 97 from the Biden presidency includes Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, that court's first Black woman, as well as 28 circuit court judges and 68 district court judges.
Three out of every four judges tapped by Biden and confirmed by the Senate in the past two years were women. About two-thirds were people of color. The Biden list includes 11 Black women to the powerful circuit courts, more than those installed under all previous presidents combined. There were also 11 former public defenders named to the circuit courts, also more than all of Biden's predecessors combined.
"It’s a story of writing a new chapter for the federal judiciary, with truly extraordinary folks representing the broadest possible types of diversity,” said Paige Herwig, a senior White House counsel.
The White House prioritized judicial nominations from the start, with Biden transition officials soliciting names of potential picks from Democratic senators in late 2020. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, swiftly moved nominees through hearings and Schumer set aside floor time for votes.
Particular focus was placed on nominees for the appellate courts, where the vast majority of federal cases end, and those coming from states with two Democratic senators, who could find easier consensus in a process where there's still significant deference given to home-state officials.
Democrats hope to speed up the tempo of confirmations next year, a goal more easily accomplished by a 51-49 Senate that will give them a slim majority on committees. In the past two years, votes on some of Biden's more contested judicial nominees would deadlock in committee votes, requiring more procedural steps that ate up valuable Senate floor time.