Democratic-owned Senate clears the way for Biden to remake the courts


WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party’s stunning hold on Senate control will allow President Joe Biden and his allies in the chamber to do something that has been modestly successful: appoint federal judges without the threat of Republican obstruction.

The Senate majority, scarred by a Democratic victory in Nevada, gives Biden a clear runway to continue one of his most sweeping pursuits: reforming federal courts with a diverse set of lifelong appointed liberal judges, including a record number of women. , minorities, former public defenders and civil rights advocates.

The Senate has confirmed 84 Biden-nominated judges, including Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman on the Supreme Court and 25 appeals court judges, and confirmed judges at a faster rate than President Donald Trump before the 2022 election.

“Senate Democrats have worked to restore balance in the federal judiciary with professional and personally diverse judges,” Senate Leader Chuck Schumer told NBC News on Saturday night. “With two more years of Democratic majority in the Senate, we will build on our historic pace of court confirmations and make the federal bank more reflective of America’s diversity.”

Trump, along with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, confirmed 234 judges in his four years — including three Supreme Court justices and dozens of young conservatives poised to rule cases for generations. Senate Republican leaders told NBC News before the election that if they win the majority, they would use their floor power to force Biden to send more centrist judges to support GOP senators.

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“This is a big bullet to be dodged because it means Biden will have a chance to build on what will become a signature legacy item for him, which is a real makeover in the makeover of the courts as he becomes a full four years of running room,” said Brian Fallon, who leads the court-focused liberal group Demand Justice. “Not only will he compete with Trump over a four-year period with the total number of nominees confirmed, he will also have left a lasting impression.”

Like other liberals, Fallon feared Republicans would have delayed court confirmations if they took control of the Senate. He said that keeping Democrats in control means that if a Supreme Court vacancy were to arise, Biden’s candidate would be assured of a vote. But he said he disagrees with some liberals who argue that judges Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan should retire so Democrats can keep their seats longer by confirming younger judges.

Fallon argued that a “silver lining” for a potentially Republican-controlled House is that halting Biden’s legislative agenda means “judicial nominations are the only game in town in terms of the agenda in the Senate,” at least if the second half of Biden’s term resembles Trump’s for the past two years.

NBC News predicted on Saturday that Democrats will win the Nevada Senate race and have at least 50 seats, enough to retain control with Vice President Kamala Harris’ casting vote — and could get a 51st if they take second. Georgia Senate round on December. 6. NBC News has not yet projected which party will control the House, with a close battle and votes still being counted in the main races.

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That leaves conservatives little hope of thwarting Biden’s selected judges, after failed attempts in recent years to target centrists like Senator Joe Manchin, TBEN.Va. and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Biden promised unity and moderation, but has consistently nominated radical judges to appease the liberal dark money groups who helped him. Unfortunately, the Senate Democrats have simply stamped out his choices, and I expect that pattern to continue,” said Carrie Severino, the president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a well-funded advocacy group that fights and is fighting for a more right-wing judiciary. not disclose its donors.

“JCN will continue to use whatever means necessary to highlight Biden’s extremist judges who place more importance on delivering liberal policy outcomes from the bench than following the law,” she said.

While the current 50-strong Democratic caucus has united behind Biden’s judicial nominees, a 51st seat for the party could encourage it further. Currently, the 50-50 split means the Judiciary Committee is also split equally and Republicans can force Democrats to jump an extra hoop and eat up hours of Senate floor time to secure a vote on a judge . If the Democrats keep their seat in Georgia, they could deny the GOP that option.

There are currently 76 vacancies at district courts and 9 at courts of appeal. That number is sure to grow as more judges retire and open their seats over the next two years.

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Some on the left have urged Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to end a courtesy known as the “blue slip” by which senators treat district judges in their home state. can block. Practically speaking, this means that Democrats currently need Republican approval to confirm judges in red states. (GOP leaders scrapped the circuit judge rule, but kept it for district courts.)

Asked by NBC News in September whether he would keep the tradition, Durbin said it has worked for the Senate and he will stick with it if he remains chairman of the judiciary for another two years.

Democrats’ hold on the Senate eases pressure on Schumer to push through judges in the lame duck session, which party leaders planned to do in case Republicans take control, wary of whether to vote for that one. nominees would allow.

For now, both parties are expected to spend big in the second round in Georgia between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, which could make it slightly easier for Democrats to maneuver Biden’s judicial nominations.

“Georgia is still important to the court confirmation project because it was really a bitch to have to deal with all these dismissal requests on the ground,” Fallon said. “The process will be even more streamlined if we can add Georgia to the drain.”

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