By Ben Jealous
One of the most important reasons to vote Donald Trump out of the White House was to stop him from packing our federal courts with even more anti-voting-rights, anti-equality, pro-corporate judges.
Stopping the flood of bad Trump judges was a huge accomplishment for every organizer and voter who helped elect Joe Biden as president. And that’s only part of the good news. President Biden is making history with the most diverse set of judicial nominees ever.
President Trump’s judicial nominees were overwhelmingly white men, often young and unqualified. They were almost always picked for their commitment to a right-wing judicial ideology that makes it harder for millions of Americans to count on the courts for justice. Thanks to Trump and his Republican enablers in the Senate, we will be dealing with hundreds of those judges for years to come.
Elections matter. Right now, instead of more judges hand-picked by right-wing legal activists and their corporate allies, President Biden is making good on his promise to bring greater diversity to our federal courts. Biden is naming far more brilliant Black judges and women judges than any other president – including Barack Obama.
Let’s look at some numbers. Because they are impressive. More than 30 percent of Biden’s judicial nominees so far have been Black. Fewer than 5 percent of Trump’s judicial picks were Black.
More than a quarter of Biden’s judicial nominees have been Black women. Under Trump, it was less than one percent. In fact, almost half of President Biden’s judicial nominees are women of color.
Biden has been in office for less than a year, and he has already doubled the number of Black women judges on the circuit courts – the highest level of federal courts below the Supreme Court. Trump named zero Black judges to the circuit courts; nearly 40 percent of Biden’s circuit court nominees have been Black.
There’s also a lot more diversity in Biden nominees’ life experiences and professional backgrounds. They aren’t all corporate lawyers and law professors. Almost one-third of them have had experience as public defenders. Some of them have worked at respected civil rights organizations. Some have devoted their legal careers to protecting and representing workers. One started her career at the Legal Aid Society. This is how we get federal courts that represent all of us, not just the most privileged and powerful.
And that brings us back to elections. President Biden has been able to get his nominees confirmed—more lifetime judges at this point in his term in office since Gerald Ford—because voters in Georgia elected Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
If Republicans still held a Senate majority, Mitch McConnell would be slow-walking and stopping Biden’s judicial nominees. When Trump was in power, McConnell laughed and bragged about how he kept so many of President Obama’s nominees from getting confirmed so that Trump would have lots of vacancies to fill.
McConnell would love to regain the power to block Biden’s judicial nominees. He would love to return to his practice of refusing to schedule hearings and votes on even the most qualified judges. He would love to abuse his power to keep hundreds of judicial seats vacant in the hopes that Trump or some other Republican will take back the White House in 2024. And bring back the flood of white, right-wing men determined to impose their ideology on the federal courts and on all of us.
We can’t let that happen.
Let’s praise the good work being done by the Biden White House and Senate Democrats. Let’s thank them for bringing balance and diversity and a commitment to equal justice for all to the federal courts. And let’s work as hard as we can to keep the Senate and White House in Democratic hands in 2022 and 2024.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.