On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted 54–45 to confirm Gina Méndez-Miró as district judge for Puerto Rico. Méndez-Miró makes history as both the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the island’s court and the 100th of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate for lifetime appointment during Chuck Schumer’s time as majority leader.
The pace of Biden’s judicial confirmations is historic. With Mitch McConnell as majority leader, the Senate had confirmed 85 judges by this point in Donald Trump’s presidency; Obama, just 67 during the same period. “And it’s not just record-setting in quantity,” Schumer told The New Republic on Monday. “We’ve confirmed more people of color, more women, more nominees from unique backgrounds than under any other administration at this point.”
Indeed, 76 of the hundred judges the Senate has confirmed during Biden’s presidency have been women; 68 have been people of color (33 Black, 21 Latinos). These have included a number of historic firsts, like Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court; Judge Zahid Quraishi, the first Muslim to serve as a federal judge; Judge Sunshine Suzanne Sykes, the first Indigenous federal judge; Judge Beth Robinson, the first LGTBQ woman to serve on any federal circuit court; Judge Tiffany Cunningham, the first Black federal circuit judge; and Judge Lucy Koh, the first Korean American to serve as a federal appeals court judge, among others.
Senate Democrats’ push to confirm judges from diverse backgrounds comes after McConnell implemented a “Leave No Vacancy Behind” approach to confirm a whopping 234 federal judges during Trump’s presidency. Trump judges were often underqualified ideologues rubber-stamped by the right-wing Federalist Society. Trump’s mostly white, male judicial confirmees have since been responsible for a number of decisions to undermine voting rights, civil rights, immigration, and student loan relief—issues that disproportionately impact communities of color.
“For our judicial system to have legitimacy in the eyes of the American people, our federal courts must reflect the diversity of our nation,” said Schumer. “This is a principle President Biden and Senate Democrats share, and that’s why during the first two years of this administration we were able to confirm more judges than either of the two previous administrations, even with a razor-thin majority.”
Schumer is quick to acknowledge Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin as the key partner here. “Chairman Durbin and all of our Judiciary Committee members have worked very hard to move these individuals quickly through the nomination process,” said Schumer.
Durbin echoed Schumer last September in a floor speech. “Our work is not finished by a long shot,” said the Illinois Democrat. “Many more nominees are still moving through the Judiciary Committee. Each one of these public servants will bring much-needed professional and demographic diversity. The judges being confirmed by this Senate will ensure that the rule of law applies to every single one of us—without fear or favor.”
Schumer told The New Republic that, beyond Durbin’s effort as Judiciary chairman, Democratic unity has been the key to confirming so many judges. “Republican cooperation can be difficult,” acknowledged the New York Democrat. “Now with a strengthened majority, we are confident we can continue this historic pace.”
Committee questioning of judicial nominees can be contentious to downright toxic, as was the case last year when Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz tried unsuccessfully to paint Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as soft on pedophiles.
Despite the high-profile attacks on Judge Jackson’s character, many of Biden’s judicial nominees have been confirmed with GOP votes. Notably, Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, voted for Justice Jackson’s confirmation. Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Roger Wicker, and Lisa Murkowski voted to confirm Méndez-Miró on Tuesday.
“This representation matters enormously. It’s how we bring balance and impartiality back to our courts. A diverse court is essential—essential—for Americans’ trust in an impartial judiciary and vital for the health of our democratic institutions,” said Schumer.
All three judges the Senate has confirmed so far in the current Congress—Méndez-Miró, Cindy Chung, and DeAndrea Benjamin—are women of color. Asked which of the hundred judicial confirmations have been most meaningful to him, personally, Schumer didn’t waffle: “I’m extremely proud of confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson. Prior to her, there had been 115 justices who had sat on the Supreme Court since 1789. Only five of them had ever been women. None until 1981. And only two had been African Americans. So Justice Jackson’s confirmation marked a historic milestone, long overdue in our country.”
“And one last thing,” added Schumer. “We can’t forget about circuit court judgeships. They’re so important. The lion’s share of all federal cases are ultimately decided at the circuit court level, so filling these vacancies is essential. So we’ve made huge progress, but our work to reshape the face of the judiciary is just beginning.”