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Why Democrats are running up the score on judicial confirmations

The Biden White House has emphasized judicial nominees to a degree without modern precedent. The plan has proven to be surprisingly successful.


As of Feb. 14, 2011, 67 of Barack Obama’s judicial nominees had been confirmed by the Senate. As of Feb. 14, 2019, 85 of Donald Trump’s judicial nominees had been confirmed by the Senate. As of Feb. 14, 2023, the incumbent president and his Senate allies can boast about having surpassed both of these totals. NBC News reported on the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s 100th federal judge.

On Monday, the Senate confirmed Cindy Chung to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, making her the first Asian American to serve on that court. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 54-45 to make Gina Méndez-Miró a district court judge in Puerto Rico; the nomination passed a key test vote that indicates she has the necessary support to be confirmed and will become Biden’s 100th confirmed judge.

For Democrats, part of the goal was to create a more diverse federal judiciary, and there’s no doubt that they’re succeeding: Of the 100 confirmed jurists, 76 are women, and 68 are people of color.

What’s more, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was eager to emphasize yesterday, the Democratic-led Senate has also confirmed more public defenders to appeals courts than any in history.

But just as notable is the overall numerical count: As we’ve discussed, the Biden White House has emphasized judicial nominees to a degree without modern precedent, and the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate has clearly recognized the significance of the issue.

For Republicans, this is a disaster, not only because Democrats are pushing back against the campaign to move the judiciary to the far-right, but also because there’s very little GOP lawmakers can do to stop the Democratic majority from continuing to confirm judicial nominees. Unlike much of the Obama era, when Republicans could still use filibusters to derail would-be jurists, the current rules give the Senate majority party the power to move these nominees to the floor quickly and efficiently.

Indeed, let’s note for context that within hours of confirming Biden’s 100th judicial nominee, the Senate confirmed his 101st and 102nd, too.

Making matters just a bit worse for the GOP, there’s every reason to believe Democrats will spend the next two years focusing on little else — in large part because they have nothing else to do. As NBC News’ report noted, with the Republican-controlled House “offering few areas of common ground legislatively, the Senate for the next two years could turn into a factory for judicial confirmations.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware added, “If the Republicans would like to slow us down from [filling judicial vacancies], a great way to do it would be to come forward with compelling legislation that will compete for floor time. If we have almost nothing else to do on the floor, then the number of judges we will confirm will likely hit an all-time high.”

Trump, for what it’s worth, had unnerving success on this front, with Senate Republicans confirming 234 judicial nominees — many of them young, most of them far-right ideologues — in just four years. Democrats are determined to exceed that total, and at their current pace, they might very well succeed.

There is, however, a nagging problem standing in the way of even greater successes: So-called “blue slips,” which is part of an archaic tradition that empowers senators to reject district-court nominees from their own state. Republicans quietly abandoned the blue-slip rule for circuit-court nominees — see our coverage from 2017 — and Democrats could take the next step now and scrap the rule for the lower courts.

As my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin explained, if Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin wants to keep his party’s recent progress going, “he should end blue slips for district court nominees, as well.”