WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate confirmed Mr Joe Biden’s first two judicial nominees onto federal benches on Tuesday (June 8), helping the US President fulfill his priority to bring greater diversity to the nation’s courts.
Mr Julien Neals, who is African American, was confirmed on a 66-33 vote as the newest judge for the US District of New Jersey.
Hours later a second Biden pick, Ms Regina Rodriguez, was also confirmed on a bipartisan vote, 72-28, to serve on the US District Court in Colorado.
“They are both highly qualified, and they represent the diversity that is one of the ultimate strengths of our nation,” Mr Biden said. “Other nominees are awaiting confirmation who also have bipartisan support, and I hope they will be rapidly confirmed as well.”
Democrats see Mr Biden as seeking to rebalance the judiciary after four years of his predecessor Donald Trump.
The Republican ex-president left a wide footprint on the courts, winning confirmation of more than 230 judges, three-quarters of whom are men and 85 per cent of whom are white, according to the American Constitution Society.
Mr Trump openly declared to his voters that he would choose conservative judges who opposed abortion and defended gun rights.
Determined to dilute Mr Trump’s influence, Mr Biden is acting swiftly to fill as many vacancies as possible before next year’s mid-term elections, when Democrats risk losing control of the Senate.
“We’re appointing really excellent judges who are diverse – not only in race, and gender and LGBTQ and religion, but also in background,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.
They are “much more diverse and I think far more qualified than the narrow, right-wing people who Trump continued to pick”.
Democrats said they anticipate over 100 vacancies at the district and circuit court level that will need to be filled in coming months, out of the country’s roughly 870 federal judgeships.
Along with judges stepping down to make way for Mr Biden’s picks, there is mounting pressure on progressive US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, to retire.
That would allow Mr Biden the opportunity to keep his campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman ever to sit on the US high court.
Since his inauguration, Mr Biden has announced 20 nominations to fill vacant judgeships.
Among them are 16 females, who include Black and Native American women in addition to Ms Rodriguez who has Mexican and Japanese heritage.
Of the men, one is a Muslim of Pakistani origin who if confirmed would be the first federal magistrate of that faith.
Mr Neals, 56, graduated from historically black Morehouse College, and earned a law degree from Emory University. He served as a lawyer in private practice and as county counsel for New Jersey’s Bergen County.
He became the face of Washington’s partisan gridlock in 2015 when Mr Barack Obama nominated him to the federal bench, only to see Mr Neals languish for more than 670 days due to blocking tactics by Republicans.
The Neals nomination died with the end of the 2015-2016 congressional term.
Ms Rodriguez was also picked for the federal bench by Mr Obama but saw her nomination expire along with Mr Neals’.
Ms Rodriguez, 57, served as an assistant US attorney in Colorado, and rose to become the first Latina to head the Civil Division in the US Attorney’s Office.