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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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

Go deeper

Updated Sep 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden unlikely to shield Trump White House records from Capitol riots probe

Photos: Anna Moneymaker and Brandon Bell via Getty Images

President Biden is unlikely to invoke executive privilege to shield any Trump White House records from the House investigation of the Capitol insurrection, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

Why it matters: Though Psaki said they would evaluate on a case-by-case basis, it puts a dent in former President Trump's plan to block requests for Jan. 6 information by claiming executive privilege, a legal theory that can allow presidents and their aides to sidestep congressional scrutiny, per the Washington Post.

Stock buybacks boom as corporate cash piles grow

The Delta variant is keeping more companies cautious about how to invest the mountains of cash they have at their disposal. That hesitancy has led, in part, to corporate spending on stock buybacks outpacing capital expenditures this year. 

Why it matters: Companies hoarded cash and raised prices over the past year — leaving them with a lot of money and decisions about what to do with it.

2 hours ago - Health

Health policies at stake in Democrats' infrastructure bet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Democrats are at a pivotal moment in their quest to expand health care coverage, slash the cost of prescription drugs and create a social structure that prioritizes people's health.

Driving the news: Democrats have a clear list of health care priorities they'll be fighting for this week. Among them is a measure to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits.