How Biden’s first judicial appointments compare with previous presidents

Welcome to the Tuesday, July 6, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Senate has confirmed seven judges nominated by President Biden
  2. Redistricting review: Federal court rejects Alabama’s attempt to force early release of Census Bureau redistricting data
  3. New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil retires

I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day weekend! 

Senate has confirmed seven judges nominated by President Biden

President Joe Biden (D) has nominated 30 individuals to Article III judgeships, and the Senate has confirmed seven of them. Biden’s first successful federal judicial appointment was Regina Rodriguez to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on June 8. Biden announced the first federal judicial nominations of his presidency on March 30. 

We track judicial confirmations by president, so we thought the halfway point in the year would be a nice time to look back on how President Biden compares to his predecessors. 

President Donald Trump’s (R) first judicial confirmation was on April 7, 2017, when the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. By the end of his first year in office, the Senate confirmed 16 of Trump’s judicial nominees. 

Here are some interesting facts regarding first-year judicial appointments since 1981: 

  • Before Trump, the president with the earliest judicial confirmation was George H.W. Bush (R). The Senate confirmed four of Bush’s nominees on May 18, 1989. By the end of his first year in office, the Senate had confirmed 15 judges that Bush had nominated.
  • Since 1981, the president with the latest first confirmation was Barack Obama (D). The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court on August 6, 2009. By the end of Obama’s first year, the Senate had confirmed 11 judges.
  • Bill Clinton (D) also had his administration’s first judicial confirmation in August of his first year—the Senate confirmed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court on August 3, 1993. By the end of Clinton’s first year, the Senate had confirmed 28 judges.
  • Since 1981, Ronald Reagan (R) had the most Article III judges confirmed in his first year with 30. President Obama had the fewest. 

There are 77 current Article III judicial vacancies in the federal courts. 

  • 13 nominees are awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Eight nominees are awaiting a committee vote to be reported to the full U.S. Senate for confirmation.
  • Two nominees have been reported to the full Senate and are awaiting a confirmation vote.

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Redistricting review: Federal court rejects Alabama’s attempt to force early release of Census Bureau redistricting data 

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on June 29 rejected an attempt by Alabama state officials to force the U.S. Census Bureau to release redistricting data in advance of Aug. 16, the date by which the  Bureau has said it will release the data to the states. Alabama had sued the Census Bureau on Mar, 11 asking the court to direct the Census Bureau to deliver redistricting data to the states by Mar. 31.

The panel unanimously rejected Alabama’s request. Their opinion said, “The court cannot force the Bureau to do the impossible – that is, comply with an already-lapsed deadline.” The ruling also said that the “Plaintiffs have acknowledged that date (Aug. 16) suffices for them to be able to complete redistricting without injury.”

The three-judge panel consisted of 11th Circuit Court of Appeals justice Kevin Newsom and the two active judges in this district court—Emily Marks and R. Austin Huffaker. All three were appointed by President Trump (R). There is one current vacancy on this court.

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New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil retires

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil retired on June 30. She joined the court in 2012 after winning election to an open seat and won a retention election for a full eight-year term in 2016. Before that, Vigil served as a state district court judge for 12 years.

All five New Mexico Supreme Court justices have been either elected as Democrats or appointed by a Democratic governor. Vigil’s replacement will be Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) fourth nominee to the supreme court. Current Chief Justice Michael Vigil (no relation) was elected as a Democrat. 

Ballotpedia’s study of partisanship on state supreme courts identified two of New Mexico’s current state supreme court justices as strong Democrats and one as a mild Democrat. Justice Julie Vargas joined the court in January after our partisan study was completed. To explore our analysis of partisanship of state supreme courts in New Mexico and across the country, click here for the full study.

So far this year, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies—all caused by retirements—in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.