Anticipating The Timing Of Biden’s Federal Judicial Appointments

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Cartoonized depiction of Presidents Obama and Trump

As mid-March approaches, the Biden administration is expected to soon announce its first round of judicial nominations. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said recently that there’s no announcement yet on timing, but reiterated President Biden’s commitment to fulfilling this executive responsibility.

Some have wondered if there’s some reason for a delay, but in truth, Biden isn’t behind schedule. Both Presidents Obama and Trump made their first appeals court nominations around this time — Obama nominating David Hamilton to the Seventh Circuit on March 17 of his first year, and Trump nominating Amul Thapar to the Sixth Circuit on March 21 of his first year.

In fact, by engaging with senators about judicial nominations during the transition, Biden indicated he is not wasting any time. As we await his first nominees, it could be helpful to look back at what the timelines looked like during other recent presidents’ first year in office.

Cartoonized depiction of Presidents Obama and Trump

Trump was handed a very large pool of vacancies thanks to Senate Republicans blocking many of Obama’s nominees. While the same is not exactly true for Biden, he nevertheless still has a tremendous opportunity to shape our judiciary. Many judges have announced they are retiring or taking senior status, creating new vacancies for Biden to fill, totaling 11 vacancies on the circuit courts and 80 vacancies in the district courts so far. Our judicial vacancy tracker keeps an up-to-date eye on these openings. Biden also notably has the opportunity to flip the Second Circuit so that a majority of its judges were appointed by Democratic presidents.

Though they no longer hold the majority, Senate Republicans have already demonstrated a willingness to delay confirmations on Biden’s cabinet nominees, so a similar trend could follow for his judicial nominees. But the true test for Biden is not defined by a direct comparison of the numbers. As we laid out in a statement of principles with over 70 groups, Biden should seize the opportunity to nominate judges who are demographically and professionally diverse with a demonstrated commitment to equal justice. That would provide a stark contrast with Trump’s nominees, who were largely white and male, had extremely disturbing ultraconservative records, and often did not meet the minimal qualifications to be a judge.

Here, for comparison, are timelines on judicial nominations for the first years of the Trump and Obama presidencies:

Supreme Court

  • Trump’s first nomination: Neil Gorsuch.  Nominated February 1, 2017 and confirmed April 7, 2017.
  • Obama’s first nomination: Sonia Sotomayor. Nominated June 1, 2009 and confirmed August 6, 2009

Court of Appeals

First Court of Appeals Nominations
  • Trump: March 21, 2017 (Amul Thapar)
  • Obama: March 17, 2009 (David Hamilton)
First Court of Appeals Judge Confirmed
  • Trump: May 25, 2017 (Amul Thapar)
  • Obama: September 17, 2009 (Gerard Lynch)
Court of Appeals Judges Nominated in First Year
(January 20-January 20)
  • Trump (18): Amul Thapar, John Bush, Kevin Newsom, Amy Coney Barrett, Joan Larsen, David Stras, Ralph Erickson, Allison Eid, Stephanos Bibas, L. Steven Grasz, Michael Brennan, Gregory Katsas, Elizabeth Branch, Kyle Duncan, Don Willett, Kurt Engelhardt, James Ho, Joel Carson.
  • Obama (12): David Hamilton, Gerard Lynch, Andre Davis, Beverly Martin, Joseph Greenaway, Thomas Vanaskie, Jane Stranch, Barbara Keenan, O. Rogeriee Thompson, Denny Chin, James Wynn, Albert Diaz.
Court of Appeals Judges Confirmed in First Year
(January 20-January 20)
  • Trump (12): Amul Thapar, John Bush, Kevin Newsom, Ralph Erickson, Amy Coney Barrett, Joan Larsen, Allison Eid, Stephanos Bibas, Gregory Katsas, L. Steven Grasz, Don Willett, James Ho.
  • Obama (4): Gerard Lynch, Andre Davis, David Hamilton, Beverly Martin.

District Court

First District Court Nominations
  • Trump:  May 8, 2017 (David Nye and Scott Palk)
  • Obama: June 25, 2009 (Jeffrey Viken and Charlene Honeywell)
First District Court Judge Confirmed
  • Trump: July 12, 2017 (David Nye)
  • Obama: September 29, 2009 (Jeffrey Viken)
District Court Nominations in First Year
(January 20-January 20)
  • Trump (44): David Nye, Scott Palk, Dabney Friedrich, Timothy Kelly, Trevor McFadden, Claria Boom, Michael Lawrence Brown, Tripp Self, William Campbell, Charles Goodwin, Mark Norris, Tommy Parker, William Ray, Eli Richardson, Annemarie Axon, Liles Burke, Donald Coggins, Marvin Quattlebaum, Terry Doughty, Robert Wier, Holly Lou Teeter, Michael Juneau, Karen Scholer, John Broomes, Rebecca Jennings, Fernando Rodriguez, Emily Marks, Jeff Beaverstock, Terry Moorer, Stan Baker, Matthew Kacsmaryk, Walter Counts, Howard Nielson, Barry Ashe, Daniel Domenico, James Sweeney, Colm Connolly, Maryellen Noreika, Susan Baxter, Marilyn Horan, Kari Dooley, Chad Kenney, Jill Otake, William Jung.
  • Obama (25): Jeffrey Viken, Charlene Honeywell, Roberto Lange, Irene Berger, Abdul Kallon, Jacqueline Nguyen, Richard Seeborg, Dolly Gee, Edward Chen, Christina Reiss, Roseanna Peterson, William Conley, Brian Jackson, Nancy Freudenthal, D. Price Marshall, Benita Pearson, J. Michelle Childs, Richard Mark Gergel, Gloria Navarro, Timothy Black, Jon DeGuillo, Audrey Fleissig, Lucy Koh, Jane Magnus-Stinson, Tanya Walton Pratt.
District Court Judges Confirmed in First Year
(January 20-January 20)
  • Trump (10): David Nye, Timothy Kelly, Scott Palk, Trevor McFadden, Donald Coggins, Dabney Friedrich, William Campbell, Tommy Parker, Michael Lawrence Brown, Walter Counts.
  • Obama (9): Jeffrey Viken, Roberto Lange, Irene Berger, Charlene Honeywell, Abdul Kallon, Christina Reiss, Jacqueline Nguyen, Richard Seeborg, Dolly Gee