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Brittony Maag

Brittony Maag is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org

U.S. Senate confirms Gelpí and O’Hearn to federal judgeships

The U.S. Senate confirmed two of President Joe Biden’s (D) federal judicial nominees to lifetime Article III judgeships on Oct. 18 and 19:

  1. Gustavo Gelpí was confirmed on Oct. 18 to the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit by a vote of 52-41. Gelpí was nominated to the court on May 12 to replace Judge Juan Torruella, whose judicial service ended upon his death on Oct. 26, 2020. Gelpí was rated Well Qualified by the American Bar Association (ABA). To read more about ABA ratings, click here.
  2. Christine O’Hearn was confirmed on Oct. 19 to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey by a vote of 53-44. O’Hearn was nominated to the court on April 29 to replace Judge Robert Kugler, who assumed senior status on May 19, 2017. O’Hearn was rated Well Qualified by the ABA.

To date, 18 of Biden’s nominees have been confirmed. For historical comparison since 1981, the following list shows the date by which the past six presidents had 18 Article III judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate:

  1. President Donald Trump (R) – Dec. 13, 2017
  2. President Barack Obama (D) – Mar. 4, 2010
  3. President George W. Bush (R) – Nov. 13, 2001
  4. President Bill Clinton (D) – Nov. 20, 1993
  5. President George H.W. Bush (R) – Mar. 6, 1990
  6. President Ronald Reagan (R) – Oct. 29, 1981

As of this writing, nine Article III nominees are awaiting a confirmation vote from the U.S Senate, five nominees are awaiting a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to advance their nominations to the full Senate, and 19 nominees are awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Tennessee Supreme Court justice’s death leaves vacancy

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark passed away from cancer on Sept. 24. Her death created one vacancy on the five-member supreme court. Clark’s replacement will be Gov. Bill Lee’s (R) first nominee to the court.

Under Tennessee law, midterm vacancies on the supreme court are filled via gubernatorial appointment with legislative approval. The appointed justice must stand for retention in the next general election to remain on the bench. Upon winning the retention election, the justice serves a full eight-year term.

Clark was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2005 by Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). She was subsequently elected to full eight-year terms in 2006 and 2014. In 2010, she became the second woman in Tennessee history to serve as chief justice of the court. She served in that role until 2012.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, Clark’s career experience included working as the director of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, as a circuit court judge in the 21st Judicial District, and as an attorney in private practice with Farris, Warfield & Kanaday (now Stites & Harbison).

Clark earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University in 1971, a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1972, and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1979.

Following Clark’s death, the Tennessee Supreme Court includes the following members:

  • Jeff Bivins, appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in 2014
  • Holly Kirby, appointed by Haslam in 2013
  • Sharon Lee, appointed by Bredesen in 2008
  • Roger A. Page, appointed by Haslam in 2016

In 2021, there have been 17 supreme court vacancies in 15 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Sixteen of the vacancies have been caused by retirements, and one vacancy was caused by a justice’s death.

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Special election for vacant Iowa House seat called for October

A special election has been called to fill the vacant Iowa House of Representatives seat in District 29. The seat became vacant on Sept. 10 when former state Rep. Wesley Breckenridge (D) resigned to take a job with the Iowa Law Enforcement Agency.

The special election is scheduled for Oct. 12. The candidate filing deadline for the election is Sept. 28. According to the Jasper County Elections website, absentee voting will begin sometime after Sept. 29 and run through Oct. 11. The start of absentee voting will depend on when the auditor’s office receives ballots. Polls will be open on election day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CDT. 

To date, 64 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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Special election for vacant Massachusetts Senate seat called for 2022

A special election has been called to fill the vacant Massachusetts State Senate seat in the First Suffolk & Middlesex District. The seat became vacant on Sept. 9 when former state Sen. Joseph Boncore (D) resigned to become CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio).

The special general election is set for Jan. 11, 2022, with the special primary election scheduled for Dec. 14, 2021. The Secretary of State’s Elections Division reports it will issue a calendar and nomination papers for the election during the week of Sept. 20.

To date, three state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2022 in two states: two in Alabama and one in Massachusetts. So far in 2021, 60 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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President Biden announces eight additional nominees for Article III judgeships

President Joe Biden (D) announced his intent to nominate eight individuals to Article III judgeships on Sept. 8. With the addition of these eight, Biden has nominated a total of 41 individuals to Article III judgeships since the start of his term. To date, nine of Biden’s nominees have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The nominees announced on Sept. 8 are:

  1. Lucy H. Koh, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
  2. Gabriel Sanchez, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
  3. Holly Thomas, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
  4. Katherine Menendez, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
  5. Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong, to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California
  6. David Herrera Urias, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico
  7. Jennifer L. Thurston, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California
  8. Hernan D. Vera, to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

As of Sept. 1, there were 82 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary of 870 total Article III judgeships. These judges serve on courts authorized by Article III of the Constitution, which created and enumerated the powers of the judiciary. They are appointed for life terms. A vacancy occurs when a judge resigns, retires, takes senior status, or passes away.

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President Biden has appointed the most federal judges through September 1 of a president’s first year

President Joe Biden (D) has appointed and the Senate has confirmed nine Article III federal judges through Sept. 1 of his first year in office. This is the most Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies going back to President Ronald Reagan (R). The Senate had confirmed six of President Donald Trump’s (R) appointees at this point in his term.

The average number of federal judges appointed by a president through Sept. 1 of their first year in office is four.

The median number of Supreme Court justices appointed at this point in a presidency is zero. Of the last seven presidents, Presidents Bill Clinton (D), Barack Obama (D), and Trump were the only three to have a confirmed Supreme Court justice at this point in their respective terms.

The median number of United States Court of Appeals appointees at this point is two. Trump and Biden appointed the most with four each. Reagan, Clinton, and Obama appointed the fewest with zero.

The median number of United States District Court appointees at this point in a term is two. Biden appointed the most with five. Clinton and Obama appointed the fewest with zero.

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the: Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for August 2021

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from Aug. 2 to Sept. 1. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been four new judicial vacancies since the July 2021 report. There are 82 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 87 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There were three new nominations since the July 2021 report.

Confirmations: There was one confirmation since the July 2021 report.

Four judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

  1. Judge Barbara Milano Keenan assumed senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
  2. Judge James Jones assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
  3. Judge David M. Lawson assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
  4. Judge Lynn Winmill assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.

U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at Biden’s inauguration and as of Sept. 1, 2021.

New nominations

Biden has announced three new nominations since the July 2021 report.

  1. Beth Robinson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  2. Mary Dimke, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington
  3. Charlotte Sweeney, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

New confirmations

As of Sept. 1, the Senate has confirmed nine of Biden’s judicial nominees—five district court judges and four appeals court judges—since January 2021.

  1. Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  2. Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
  3. Tiffany Cunningham, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
  4. Eunice Lee, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  5. Deborah Boardman, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  6. Lydia Kay Griggsby, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  7. Julien Xavier Neals, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  8. Zahid Quraishi, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  9. Regina Rodriguez, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

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SCOTUS adds two cases to its 2021-2022 term

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted two cases for review during its 2021-2022 term on Aug. 23. With the addition of these two cases, the court has granted review in a total of 33 cases for the term, which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 4. 

  1. Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez concerns the right of non-citizens to a bond hearing after a certain amount of time in immigration detention. The question presented to the court was, “Whether an alien who is detained under 8 U.S.C. 1231 is entitled by statute, after six months of detention, to a bond hearing at which the government must prove to an immigration judge by clear and convincing evidence that the alien is a flight risk or a danger to the community.” Arteaga-Martinez originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
  2. Garland v. Gonzalez concerns the right of non-citizens in immigration detention to a bond hearing and the jurisdiction of federal courts to grant class-wide injunctive relief in such cases. Two questions were presented to the court: “1. Whether an alien who is detained under 8 U.S.C. 1231 is entitled by statute, after six months of detention, to a bond hearing at which the government must prove to an immigration judge that the alien is a flight risk or a danger to the community. 2. Whether, under 8 U.S.C. § 1252 (f) (1), the courts below had jurisdiction to grant classwide injunctive relief.” Gonzalez originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The Supreme Court finished hearing oral arguments for its 2020-2021 term in May 2021. During the term, the court issued 67 opinions with two cases decided in one consolidated opinion and 10 cases decided without oral argument. The court’s 2021-2022 term is set to begin on Oct. 4 with oral arguments in Mississippi v. Tennessee and Wooden v. United States.

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Seven applicants in the running for vacant Texas Supreme Court seat

Seven applicants are vying for an open seat on the Texas Supreme Court as of Aug. 18. The applicants are seeking to fill a vacancy on the court created when former Justice Eva Guzman stepped down on June 11 to run for Texas attorney general.

Under Texas law, in the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement. The Texas state Senate must then confirm the nominee. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which he or she must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term. Guzman’s replacement will be Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) fifth nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

The seven applicants are:

  • Judge Josh Burgess
  • Judge April Farris
  • Attorney Harston Dustin “Dusty” Fillmore III
  • Attorney and former Judge Ysmael D. Fonseca Jr.
  • Arbitrator and former Judge Michael Massengale
  • Judge Ken Wise
  • Attorney and former Judge Alicia Franklin York

As of this writing, Abbott had not released a timeline for filling the vacant seat.

In 2021, there have been 15 supreme court vacancies in 13 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 12 of those 15 vacancies have been filled.

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Status of President Biden’s federal judicial nominees so far

President Joe Biden’s (D) most recent federal judicial nominations were submitted to the U.S. Senate on Aug. 5. The three new nominees are:

  1. Charlotte Sweeney, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado
  2. Mary Dimke, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington
  3. Beth Robinson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

To date, Biden has nominated 33 individuals to Article III federal judgeships. Listed below is the status of all of Biden’s Article III judicial nominees:

Waiting for committee hearing

The six nominees in this list are awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  1. Jane Beckering, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan
  2. Mary Dimke, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington
  3. Shalina Kumar, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
  4. Beth Robinson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  5. Jennifer Sung, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  6. Charlotte Sweeney, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Waiting for committee vote

The five nominees in this list have had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and are awaiting a committee vote to advance their nominations to the full U.S. Senate.

  1. Toby Heytens, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
  2. Sarala Nagala, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
  3. Michael Nachmanoff, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  4. Patricia Tolliver Giles, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  5. Omar Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

Waiting for confirmation vote in U.S. Senate

The 13 nominees in this list are awaiting a vote in the full U.S. Senate following committee consideration. 

  1. Jia Cobb, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
  2. David G. Estudillo, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
  3. Gustavo Gelpí, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit
  4. Angel Kelley, to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
  5. Lauren King, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
  6. Tana Lin, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
  7. Sarah A.L. Merriam, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
  8. Christine O’Hearn, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  9. Florence Pan, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
  10. Myrna Pérez, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  11. Veronica Rossman, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
  12. Margaret Strickland, to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico
  13. Karen Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

Confirmed to their positions

The nine nominees in this list have been confirmed by the full U.S. Senate. 

  1. Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  2. Zahid Quraishi, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  3. Julien Xavier Neals, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  4. Deborah Boardman, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  5. Regina Rodriguez, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado
  6. Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
  7. Lydia Kay Griggsby, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  8. Eunice Lee, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  9. Tiffany Cunningham, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Biden made the first federal judicial nominations of his presidency in March 2021. The U.S. Senate confirmed seven of his nominees in June, one in July, and one so far in August.

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Current federal judicial vacancies

Article III, United States Constitution