TagJudicial appointments

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

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

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

The median number of Supreme Court justices appointed at this point in a presidency is zero. Of the last seven presidents, only Trump had a confirmed Supreme Court justice at this point in his term.

The median number of United States Court of Appeals appointees at this point is one. Trump and Biden appointed the most with three each. Presidents Reagan, Bill Clinton (D), and Barack Obama (D) 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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Federal judges nominated by Joe Biden



Oklahoma Gov. Stitt appoints state supreme court justice

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed Dana Kuehn to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on July 26. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Tom Colbert’s retirement on Feb. 1. Kuehn is Stitt’s third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Under Oklahoma law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a nominating commission. The nominating commission puts forward a list of three names from which the governor chooses the appointee. The appointed judge serves an initial term of at least one year before standing for retention in the next general election.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn served as a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. She was appointed to that seat in 2017. From 2006 to 2017, Kuehn was a Tulsa County associate district judge. Prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a Tulsa County district attorney and as an attorney in private practice with Steidley & Neal, PLLC. Kuehn earned a B.A. in political science from Oklahoma State University and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law.

With her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn became the first woman to serve on both of Oklahoma’s high courts.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 12 of those vacancies have been filled.

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Governor Brian Kemp appoints new state supreme court justice, public service commissioner

Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to the Georgia Supreme Court and Fitz Johnson to the Georgia Public Service Commission on July 20 and 21, respectively. Colvin will fill the vacancy left by Justice Harold Melton, who retired on July 1 of this year, while Johnson will take former Commissioner Chuck Eaton’s position. Governor Kemp appointed Eaton to the Fulton County Superior Court on July 20. 

Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. The current chief of the court is David Nahmias. As of July 2021, Republican governors appointed seven judges (eight once Colvin is sworn in) on the court and one was initially selected in a nonpartisan election. Judges are selected using the nonpartisan election of judges system. They serve six-year terms. When an interim vacancy occurs, the seat is filled using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection with the governor picking the interim justice from a slate provided by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. 

The Georgia Public Service Commission is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative state body responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities: electric, gas, telecommunications, and transportation firms. The commission is composed of five popularly elected members who serve staggered, six-year terms. If a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson must win election in November 2022 to serve the remainder of Eaton’s term, which expires in 2024.

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Gov. Brian Kemp fills vacancy on Georgia Supreme Court

Georgia GovernorBrian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to theGeorgia Supreme Court on July 20. Colvin was Kemp’s third nominee to the nine-member court.

Colvin succeededHarold Melton, who retired on July 1. Chief Justice Melton joined the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).

Prior to her appointment to the state supreme court, Colvin served as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Kemp appointed her to that court on March 27, 2020. Colvin was previously a judge with the Macon Circuit of the 3rd Superior Court District of Georgia. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on March 24, 2014. Prior to becoming a superior court judge, she was an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements. To date, 11 of the vacancies have been filled.

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New Mexico governor appoints Briana Zamora to fill vacancy on state supreme court

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appointed Briana Zamora to the New Mexico Supreme Court on July 16. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Barbara J. Vigil’s retirement on June 30. Zamora is Gov. Lujan Grisham’s fourth nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Under New Mexico law, midterm state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointments, where the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which they must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term.

Briana Zamora previously served as a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals from 2018 until her appointment to the state supreme court. She served as a district court judge from 2013 to 2018 and as a metro court judge from 2009 to 2013. Prior to becoming a judge, Zamora worked as an attorney in private practice, as an assistant state attorney general, and as an assistant district attorney. She earned an undergraduate degree in government and psychology from New Mexico State University and a J.D., with honors, from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 10 of those 14 vacancies have been filled.

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Kathryn Hackett King appointed to Arizona Supreme Court

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kathryn Hackett King to the state supreme court on July 8. The seat became vacant in April when former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew W. Gould retired. King is Gov. Ducey’s sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

At the time she was appointed, King was a partner at the law firm of BurnsBarton PLC. From 2015 to 2017, King served as Gov. Ducey’s deputy general counsel. She previously practiced law at Snell & Wilmer LLP. After graduating from law school, King clerked for former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan from 2007 to 2008. 

A newly-appointed justice must stand for retention in the next general election after two years to remain on the court. That means King must run for retention in 2024. If retained, King will then begin a six-year term on the bench.

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Arizona Supreme Court

State Supreme Court Vacancies, 2021



Governors appoint new supreme court justices in two states

Alaska and Arizona have new state supreme court justices after appointments from their respective governors. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the Alaska Supreme Court on July 7, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kathryn Hackett King to the Arizona Supreme Court on July 8.

Alaska

A seat on the Alaska Supreme Court became vacant when former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30, 2021. Gov. Dunleavy selected Jennifer Stuart Henderson for the seat from a list of three finalists forwarded by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC). Henderson is Gov. Dunleavy’s second nominee to the five-member supreme court.

On July 1, Dunleavy asked the AJC to reconsider its list of nominees and put forward a new slate to fill the vacancy. However, under the council’s bylaws, it may not reconsider nominees that have been sent to the governor except in specific circumstances. Ultimately, Dunleavy appointed Henderson from the original slate of three names put forward by the AJC.

Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Henderson served as a judge on the Alaska superior court. She was appointed to the superior court in 2012 by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Her career experience also includes working as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage and as an attorney in private practice with the law firm of Farley & Graves. After law school, she served as a clerk for former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. Henderson earned a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Arizona

A seat on the Arizona Supreme Court became vacant when former Justice Andrew W. Gould retired on April 1, 2021. Gov. Ducey selected Kathryn Hackett King for the seat from a slate of nominees put forward by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. King is Gov. Ducey’s sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, King was a partner at the law firm of BurnsBarton PLC. She also served as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. From 2015 to 2017, King served as the deputy general counsel to Gov. Ducey. She previously practiced law at Snell & Wilmer LLP. After graduation from law school, King clerked for former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan from 2007 to 2008. She is the fifth woman in Arizona history to serve on the state supreme court.

King earned a B.A. in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, nine of those 14 vacancies have been filled.

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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for June 2021

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

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been three new judicial vacancies since the May 2021 report. There are 77 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, 82 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There were 11 new nominations since the May 2021 report.

Confirmations: There were seven confirmations since the May 2021 report.

New vacancies

There are 77 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.9%.

  • The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
  • Seven (3.9%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
  • 68 (10.1%) of the 673 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.*
  • Two (22.2%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions are vacant.

*District court count does not include territorial courts.

Three 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.

  • Judge John Dowdell assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
  • Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby left her seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims when she was elevated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson left her seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia when she was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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 the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) and as of July 1, 2021.

New nominations

President Joe Biden (D) has announced 11 new nominations since the May 2021 report.

  • Toby Heytens, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
  • Myrna Pérez, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  • Jennifer Sung, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
  • Jane Beckering, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan
  • Jia Cobb, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Shalina Kumar, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
  • Sarah A.L. Merriam, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
  • Michael Nachmanoff, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • Sarala Nagala, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
  • Patricia Tolliver Giles, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • Omar A. Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

New confirmations

As of July 1, 2021, the Senate has confirmed seven of President Biden’s judicial nominees—two appeals court judges and five district court judges—since January 2021.

  • Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  • Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
  • Deborah Boardman, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  • Lydia Kay Griggsby, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  • Julien Xavier Neals, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  • Zahid Quraishi, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  • Regina Rodriguez, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Additional reading:

Current Federal Judicial Vacancies

Federal Judges Nominated by Joe Biden

Federal Judicial Appointments by President

Judicial Vacancies during the Biden administration

United States Federal Courts



President Biden nominates six to Article III courts; two to D.C. local courts

President Joe Biden (D) nominated six individuals to Article III judgeships with lifetime terms on June 15:

• Myrna Pérez, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

• Jia Cobb, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Sarah A.L. Merriam, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

• Sarala Nagala, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

• Florence Pan, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Omar A. Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

To date, Biden has nominated 24 individuals to federal judgeships. Five of the nominees have been confirmed. There were 81 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary as of June 1.

As of his inauguration in January 2021, Biden inherited 46 Article III vacancies: two vacancies in the U.S. courts of appeal, 43 vacancies in the U.S. district courts, and one vacancy on the U.S. Court of International Trade. Biden announced his first federal judicial nominees on March 30.

President Biden also nominated two individuals to Washington, D.C., local courts on June 15:

• Tovah Calderon, to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

• Kenia Seoane Lopez, to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has two local courts: the superior court—a trial court of general jurisdiction—and a court of appeals. Justices on these courts are nominated by the U.S. president after recommendation from the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission. They then face confirmation by the U.S. Senate. D.C. judges are appointed to 15-year renewable terms.

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Missouri governor appoints Robin Ransom to state supreme court

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) appointed Robin Ransom to the Missouri Supreme Court on May 24. Ransom was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Laura Denvir Stith, who retired on March 8. Ransom is Parson’s first appointee to the state’s highest court.

Under Missouri law, the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission selects supreme court judges according to the Missouri Plan. When a seat on the court becomes vacant, the commission submits three names to the governor to determine the replacement. If the governor fails to nominate a replacement from the list, the responsibility goes to the commission.

Ransom has served as a judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District since her appointment to that court by Gov. Parson in January 2019. Ransom previously served as a circuit court judge for the 22nd Circuit Court in Missouri. Governor Matt Blunt (R) appointed her to the position on Sept. 11, 2008, and she was retained by voters in 2010 and 2016. Ransom earned a B.A. in political science and sociology from Rutgers University’s Douglass College in 1988 and a J.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1991.

In 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have all been caused by retirements.

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