The Democrat-controlled Senate has confirmed 90 federal judicial nominees to the bench as of this week. This is incredible news for people who care about the courts and having actually qualified jurists making highly consequential legal decisions.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) summed up why federal judgeships are so important during a floor speech on Monday. “These appointments are critical: Even though a conservative majority presides on the Supreme Court, the bulk of all federal cases are still resolved by circuit court judges,” he said.
Nearly 50 percent of those people confirmed are women of color. “That’s never happened before,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “I’m confident a more diverse bench will go a long way in cultivating trust in our courts and in our democracy.”
The Senate is on track to finish the calendar year with more judges confirmed to the federal bench than were confirmed in the first two years of Barack Obama’s and Donald Trump’s administrations, according to Schumer.
On Monday, the Senate confirmed Doris Pryor as a U.S. Circuit Judge for the 7th Circuit, which covers cases from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Pryor is the first woman of color from Indiana to join that court. “One judge at a time, the Senate continues fulfilling its mission of making sure our courts reflect the diversity and dynamism of America,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed its 89th and 90th nominees to the federal bench: Frances Kay Behm for District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and Kelley Brisbon Hodge for District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“Today our federal judiciary is far more balanced, far more diverse, far more experienced than the one our country had two years ago. It’s something we’re very proud of,” Schumer said.
There is one nomination and confirmation that stands out: Ketanji Brown Jackson. Earlier this year, Jackson was the first Black woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. Jackson’s nomination and confirmation fulfilled a campaign promise President Joe Biden made before the South Carolina Democratic primary in February 2020, which helped him secure support from the state’s influential Rep. James Clyburn (D).
The federal judiciary is a body that can only be entered via the Senate; that’s why it’s so important which party controls the chamber. Previously, there was a courtesy between the two parties—the “blue slip”—that let each state’s senators essentially veto a potential nominee. It’s a leftover relic from the good ol’ boys club and began to fall out of favor when Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Senate blue slips shouldn’t be necessary in 2017. Because that almost behind-the-scenes veto isn’t always in play, the party that controls the nomination process has even more power.
This is something Schumer, who has been in the Senate since 1999, understands. “You can rest assured, Mr. President, that Senate Democrats are going to maintain this priority on judges as the 118th Congress begins next year.”
This is what controlling the Senate gets you: long-term judicial consequences.