'A Major Milestone': Senate Confirms Joe Biden’s 200th Lifetime Federal Judge

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, a significant milestone both in terms of the number of lifetime federal judges he has confirmed and the unprecedented diversity he’s infused into the nation’s courts.

With the Senate’s confirmation of Angela Martinez to a U.S. district court in Arizona, Biden surpassed the number of lifetime federal judges that Donald Trump had confirmed by the same point in his presidency. Trump, who made judicial confirmations a major focus of his presidency, was at 196 at this point in his presidency.

It is the diversity of Biden’s judges, though, that really jumps out. He has put more women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and professionally diverse people into lifetime federal judgeships than any of his predecessors, and in some cases, more than any of them combined.

Nearly two-thirds of Biden’s judges are women (127), and nearly two-thirds are people of color (125). About 40% of Biden’s judges are women of color (79).

To put this into some context: A total of 3,254 white men have served on the Supreme Court, appeals courts or district courts since the U.S. federal court system was created in 1789, according to the Federal Judicial Center.

In all that time, 416 judges have been white women, and 565 have been people of color. Just 197 have been women of color.

The professional diversity of Biden’s judges is also off the charts. More than 40% of them (85) have backgrounds as public defenders or civil rights lawyers ― a huge break from the centuries-long tradition of plucking people for federal judgeships from their jobs as prosecutors or corporate attorneys.

“When you walk into a courtroom and your freedom and your business and your family’s interests are at stake, you’d like to look up there and see a judge that you believe really understands your way of life,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said at a press conference with civil rights leaders after the vote.

Biden has ushered in historic firsts for the federal bench, too. He appointed the first openly LGBTQ+ woman to serve on a U.S. appeals court, Judge Beth Robinson of the 2nd Court of Appeals. He appointed the first Muslim American federal judge, Zahid Quraishi, to a U.S. district court. He has appointed four Native American people to lifetime federal judgeships, which is half of all the Native American federal judges appointed in U.S. history.

And, of course, Biden appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman and former public defender to serve on the nation’s top court.

“This is a major milestone,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) celebrated on the Senate floor ahead of Martinez’s vote. “Simply put, our 200 judges comprise the most diverse slate of judicial nominations under any president in American history.”

The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is one of Joe Biden's greatest successes as president.
The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is one of Joe Biden's greatest successes as president. Tom Williams via Getty Images

Broken down, the president has confirmed a total of one Supreme Court justice, 42 appeals court judges, 155 district court judges and two Court of International Trade judges. All of these judges are serving lifetime appointments.

Biden “may well be able to match” Trump’s 174 confirmed district judges by the end of the year, speculated Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Institution’s governance studies program and president of the Governance Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

“If he does, he would be second only to former President Jimmy Carter” in confirming that many district judges in a single term, Wheeler said.

But Biden is not likely to fill as many appeals court vacancies as Trump did. By the end of Trump’s term, he had confirmed 54 appeals court judges. There simply aren’t enough vacancies for Biden to fill to hit that number by the end of the year.

Ultimately, though, the president’s goal has been to appoint “a lot of judges who were not white males,” Wheeler said. “He’s exceeded that.”

“All things considered, I think he has a really impressive record,” he added.

President Joe Biden wouldn't have gotten so many of his judges confirmed without the help of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
President Joe Biden wouldn't have gotten so many of his judges confirmed without the help of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). SHAWN THEW via Getty Images

While Biden has had success with his judges, he’s facing some real challenges in the coming months, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia and a judicial nominations expert.

There are still dozens of vacant district court seats, he said, and the majority of them don’t have a nominee. Many of those vacancies are in states represented by two GOP senators, meaning they have a say in who the White House picks for those seats. They can also jam the process entirely by not agreeing to any nominees — a political move that becomes increasingly likely as it gets closer to the November elections.

“The Senate calendar is tough,” said Tobias, referring to the dwindling days lawmakers will be in Washington before they head back home to run for reelection. “Democrats are defending more seats and need to campaign.”

For now, Biden seems pretty pleased with his record.

“Today, we reached another milestone in the effort to protect the freedoms and liberties of all Americans,” he said in a statement.

“These judges are exceptionally well-qualified. They come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a President,” the president said. “And despite differences in background and experience, they are all committed to principles that are at the core of our democracy: independence, freedom, and liberty.”

Biden wouldn’t have been able to get so many judges through without Senate Democratic leaders making judicial confirmations a top priority. It’s particularly notable how much they’ve been able to deliver given their razor-thin majority in the chamber. Biden was working with a Senate evenly tied at 50-50 until December 2022, when Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won in a runoff election and gave Democrats a 51-49 majority.

Warnock said Wednesday that he didn’t realize at the time how significant his victory was for confirming judges.

“I didn’t appreciate, as I do now, how deeply consequential that win would be,” Warnock told HuffPost. “The people of Georgia delivered this 200th judge.”

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.