Watch CBS News

Senate confirms 200th Biden judge as Democrats tout "major milestone"

New 2024 polling in Florida, Arizona
Trump pulling away from Biden in Florida, Arizona: CBS News poll 05:05

Washington — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Biden's 200th judicial nominee, surpassing the number of appointments to the federal judiciary made by his two most recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

The Senate marked the milestone after its approval of Krissa Lanham on Tuesday and with the vote to confirm Angela Martinez on Wednesday, both to seats on the federal district court in Arizona. With their confirmations, Mr. Biden has placed 42 judges on the U.S. courts of appeals, 155 judges on the U.S. district courts and two on the Court of International Trade. He also named Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court in 2022, a history-making nomination as she became the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

There are more than 40 current open seats on the federal judiciary, and another 28 future vacancies, according to the U.S. Courts. Mr. Biden has two dozen nominees pending. The country has more than 860 authorized judgeships. 

"Judges matter," the president said in a statement marking the 200th confirmation. "These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the confirmations a "major milestone," saying on the Senate floor before the vote to confirm Martinez that the 200 judges "comprise the most diverse slate of judicial nominations under any president in American history."

"The bench, the powerful federal judiciary filled with lifetime appointments, should reflect America," he said. "It's taken too long to get to this point."

Schumer called it a "really fine day for America."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer chats with Sen. Dick Durbin on the House floor ahead of the annual State of the Union address by President Biden on March 7, 2024, in Washington, D.C.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer chats with Sen. Dick Durbin on the House floor ahead of the annual State of the Union address by President Biden on March 7, 2024, in Washington, D.C.  Shawn Thew / Getty Images

Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin hailed Mr. Biden's judicial picks as representing "the best in our judiciary."

"This is an extraordinary slate of judges who are ruling with reason and restraint. These judges respect the rule of law, adhere to precedent and above all, answer only to the Constitution," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Durbin also highlighted the professional and demographic diversity of Mr. Biden's nominees. The Senate, he said, has made history by confirming more Black women to the U.S. appeals courts than all prior presidents combined.

Biden's judicial picks

Mr. Biden's judicial appointments have slightly outpaced former President Donald Trump's at this point in his fourth year in office. But surpassing the 234 judges Trump named to the federal bench during his first and sole term may be difficult given the Senate's schedule in the run-up to the November election, since several Democratic senators in states won by Trump in 2020 are working to hold on to their seats and are likely to spend the coming months on the campaign trail. 

"I think it's pretty substantial when you consider what we've been up against," Durbin told CBS News of the milestone on Tuesday, noting the makeup of the narrowly divided Senate and the one-vote Democratic advantage in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers the president's nominations. The Senate consists of 48 Democrats, 49 Republicans and three independents who typically vote with Democrats. A simple majority, 51 votes, is needed to confirm a judicial nominee. 

Though Durbin cheered the Senate's work in confirming Mr. Biden's judicial nominees, he explained why it would be hard to match or surpass the number confirmed during the Trump administration. 

"It's tough because Trump had a spurt there at the end when they gave him a package, I think there were a dozen judges in that package, maybe more," Durbin added. "If we can get that kind of treatment from Sen. McConnell, I think we can reach it."

The focus on judicial nominees sharpened under Trump as he sought to reshape the federal judiciary. His appointments to the Supreme Court may be the most enduring and consequential actions of his presidency. Trump named three justices to the nation's highest court, widening its conservative majority to 6-3. Since the end of his administration in January 2021, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and ended affirmative action in higher education, and is poised to issue rulings curtailing federal regulatory power in the coming weeks.

Mr. Biden has emphasized diversity in his judicial nominees, including in the professional backgrounds of those the president has picked to serve. 

The White House has stressed when announcing new rounds of judicial nominees that the president's picks fulfill his "promise to ensure that the nation's courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds."

By his first six months in office, Mr. Biden matched former President Barack Obama's number of nominees to the federal appellate courts who worked as public defenders. More than 40% of those with lifetime appointments served as public defenders or civil rights lawyers, or worked to protect civil and human rights, according to a memo from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

Additionally, among the president's confirmed judges, 127 are women, 125 are people of color and 79 are women of color, according to the memo. Eleven judges tapped by Mr. Biden are LGBTQ, matching Obama's record for openly LGBTQ judges appointed to the federal bench. The president also appointed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, Zahid Quraishi, to the federal district court in New Jersey.

"The 200th lifetime judicial confirmation during this administration is an important milestone to celebrate and a call to action to make more progress," Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference, said in a statement. "We must urgently build an equal justice judiciary that works for all of us. We deserve a judiciary that upholds civil rights and the Constitution."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.