Biden's quiet court drive
President Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate have installed more federal judges during the first six months of his presidency than any administration since Richard Nixon's.
Why it matters: While Democrats may spend more time talking publicly about vaccines and infrastructure, the rapid pace of both nominations and confirmations shows judges are one of the party's most urgent priorities. President Trump pushed through his own slate of judges to boost conservatives for decades.
By the numbers: Biden has had eight federal judges confirmed since taking office on Jan. 20.
- Six months into their presidencies, Trump and George H.W. Bush had each appointed four judges. Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan hadn't appointed any.
Chief of Staff Ron Klain and White House counsel Dana Remus — in coordination with the Senate Judiciary Committee — are intensely focused on accelerating Biden's efforts to appoint as many judges as possible.
- The emphasis isn't just on speed but also on adding diversity that's lacking on the federal bench.
Between the lines: "There has historically been this view of a certain path to a judgeship that can be over-representative of prosecutors or law-firm lawyers," said a senior administration official.
- "And so, we've focused on getting the message out to make sure that we've got talented, young members of the profession thinking, 'Oh, I could be a judge,' and expressing interest in being a judge. We're talking about people who are civil rights litigators, public defenders or might have taken other nontraditional paths toward being a judge."
- Each "first" represented by a nominee has been highlighted in the news release announcing his or her selection.
Behind the scenes: Klain has made it his personal mission to undo as much of Trump's judicial legacy as he can, according to sources familiar with his efforts.
His role as chief of staff has helped give Biden — himself a lawyer and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee — a sharper focus on the courts than previous Democratic administrations.
- Remus and her team, including judicial nomination point person Paige Herwig, are doing the daily work of vetting potential judges, taking recommendations from Senate offices and interviewing candidates.
- They also write internal recommendation memos that go to Klain, a Harvard Law grad who participates in the meeting in which the nominees are decided.
- Biden met personally in the Oval Office with most of his nominees for federal appellate courts. That wasn't the practice under Obama, according to a source familiar with the process.
Yes, but: Even at this pace, and even if Democrats retain control of the Senate for Biden's entire presidency, it'll be hard for him to leave as big a mark as Trump.
He ultimately appointed 226 federal judges.
- Among them were three young Supreme Court justices, solidifying a deeply conservative majority for decades. Biden almost certainly won't have the chance to create a liberal majority on the high court.
- Trump also appointed an astonishing 54 judges to the federal appeals courts that sit one step below the Supreme Court — almost as many in four years as Obama got in eight years.
- That includes 17 vacancies that were waiting for him on the day he was sworn in, thanks to confirmation slow-walking during the Obama administration by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
- Biden got a much smaller head start after the Trump rush.
Be smart: Republicans took advantage of a multi-decade, well-funded pipeline of conservative legal talent, built largely by the Federalist Society under the leadership of Leonard Leo. Democrats simply don't have a comparable apparatus