Washington — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Biden's first nominee to the federal bench, approving with bipartisan support Julien Neals for the U.S. district court in New Jersey.
Neals was confirmed 66 to 33, with only Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont not voting. Later Tuesday afternoon, the Senate confirmed Regina Rodriguez to the federal district court in Colorado by a vote of 72 to 28.
Mr. Biden praised the Senate for approving his first two nominees in a statement and said Neals and Rodriguez "embody the professional excellence and devotion to the rule of law and our Constitution that the American people expect of federal judges."
"They are both highly qualified, and they represent the diversity that is one of the ultimate strengths of our nation — in all branches of government, including the judiciary," the president said.
Included among the first slate of judicial nominees announced by the White House in late March, Neals' nomination received the backing of five Republicans, as well as all Democrats, on the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.
Neals will join the federal bench after serving as county counsel and acting county administrator for Bergen County, New Jersey. He served in numerous positions in Newark city government, including as chief judge of the Newark Municipal Court. He was nominated to the district court in New Jersey by then-President Obama in 2015, but his nomination stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The American Bar Association, which examines nominees to the federal courts, unanimously rated Neals "well qualified" for his judgeship.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who chairs the Judiciary Committee, lauded Neals and Mr. Biden's other judicial nominees who will receive a vote in the Senate this week, saying they "illustrate something that is substantial and profound."
"They'll bring much-needed experiential and demographic diversity to our nation's courts," Durbin said in remarks on the Senate floor. "The face of justice is often as important as the fact of justice, and if people appearing before our courts feel there is at least a chance for success based on the background and experience of a judge, I think it's a positive thing."
With Neals' confirmation, there are now five vacancies on the federal district court in New Jersey, though Mr. Biden has sent to the Senate nominees to fill three of those seats. One of the seats on the court has been open since 2015, and they all remained unfilled during former President Donald Trump's tenure in the White House.
Excluding the seat Neals will fill, the Judicial Conference of the U.S., the policy-making body for the federal courts, has deemed four of the vacancies on the U.S. district court as judicial emergencies.
Mr. Trump appointed more than 230 judges to the federal courts during his only term in office, remaking the judiciary and shifting the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court to the right with his three appointments there.
Now, Mr. Biden will have his chance to put his stamp on the federal bench. He has pledged to appoint judges with diverse backgrounds and professional experience, including those who have worked as public defenders.