As Election Nears, Biden Faces Challenges in Keeping Pace with Trump’s Judicial Appointments

The White House is currently gearing up for a crucial opportunity that may well mark President Joe Biden’s final chance to make a lasting impact on the judiciary. 

As the possibility of a November 2024 election rematch between Biden and his Republican predecessor looms, concerns are rising among progressive advocates that Biden might not match the pace of judicial appointments set by former President Donald Trump over his four-year term.

Despite Senate Democrats pledging to remain dedicated to confirming Biden’s judicial nominees in 2024, worries have surfaced as Biden’s rate of appointments slowed in 2023. 

This deceleration came as Senate Republicans exerted their influence, leading to negotiations with the White House over potential nominees.

Russ Feingold, a Democratic former U.S. senator and leader of the liberal American Constitution Society, expressed concern about the slower pace, emphasizing the risk it poses to Biden’s ability to continue appointing diverse judges as the 2024 election approaches. 

The outcome of the election will determine whether Biden secures a second term and whether Democrats maintain control of the Senate, influencing the trajectory of judicial appointments.

Biden, throughout his tenure, has been committed to fulfilling a 2020 campaign promise to enhance diversity within the judiciary, historically dominated by white men, often with backgrounds as prosecutors or law firm partners. 

Notably, two-thirds of Biden’s confirmed nominees are people of color, and 108 are women, reflecting a concerted effort to counterbalance the conservative influence of Trump’s previous appointments.

Prominent judges confirmed in 2023 include Julie Rikelman, a former abortion rights attorney now on the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Dale Ho, a voting rights advocate serving as a federal judge in Manhattan. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer emphasized the ongoing commitment to prioritizing judges who contribute to the bench’s diversity.

However, the pace of confirmations in 2023, with 69 judges approved, fell short of Trump’s third-year total of 102 confirmations. 

Challenges arose within the Senate Judiciary Committee, which struggled to process nominees due to the absence of an ailing panel member, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who passed away in September.

Looking ahead to 2024, Biden has the opportunity to make up for the slowdown. He has announced 30 nominees yet to be confirmed, and with 53 current vacancies on the federal bench, he could theoretically match Trump’s four-year total.

However, 22 of these vacancies are in states with one or two Republican senators, who, through the “blue slip” custom, can effectively veto nominees they disapprove of.

Progressive groups have urged Senator Dick Durbin, the Judiciary Committee’s current Democratic chairman, to abandon the “blue slip” tradition, arguing that it impedes Biden’s ability to appoint judges in conservative-leaning states. 

Leah Litman, a law professor, highlighted the potential consequences, suggesting that without nominations in these states, Republican lawmakers could enact laws without concern for potential court challenges.

Durbin acknowledges the issue but has stood by the tradition, encouraging Republicans to demonstrate a willingness to compromise. 

The White House, in response, has pointed to recent successes in confirming district court judges from states with Republican senators, signaling an intention to nominate judges in states like Texas, where Republican blockades have had a notable impact.

As Biden closed out 2023, he announced plans to nominate five judges in states with Republican senators, including two in Texas with the support of Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. 

The unfolding dynamics in 2024 will play a crucial role in shaping the composition of the federal judiciary for years to come.


Elizabeth Willett (MA)
Elizabeth Willett (MA)
Elizabeth Willett has an M.A in health and fitness, is an experienced trainer, and enjoys teaching children about healthy eating habits. She loves to cook nutritious meals for her family.


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