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Senate confirms first Biden judges, beginning push to rebalance courts

The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s first two judicial nominees Tuesday with modest Republican support.
The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s first two judicial nominees Tuesday with modest Republican support.STEFANI REYNOLDS/NYT

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s first two judicial nominees Tuesday with modest Republican support, quietly touching off a liberal sprint to fill scores of federal vacancies, aimed at ideologically rebalancing and diversifying the courts after the Trump era.

In a lopsided 66-33 vote, the chamber approved Julien Xavier Neals to serve as a district court judge in New Jersey, where a spate of vacancies has contributed to a significant backlog of cases.

A few hours later, senators voted 72-28 to confirm Regina Rodriguez as the first Asian American judge to serve on the U.S. District Court bench in Colorado.

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“This is the first, certainly not the last — not even close,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, boasted between the votes. “We’re going to be able to restore a lot of balance to the courts because there are a lot of vacancies we are going to fill.”

Democrats plan to move as soon as this week to confirm Biden’s first appeals court pick, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to serve on the powerful District of Columbia Circuit. They have roughly a dozen other nominees already winding their way through the approval process, with more than 100 vacancies expected to be open on the federal bench in the coming months.

But Democrats are starting from a deep hole. When they controlled the Senate, Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky used their majority to help President Donald Trump confirm more than 220 federal judges over four years, including more than 50 to influential appeals court posts and three Supreme Court justices. Together, they are already putting a deep conservative stamp on the law.

To push back, Democrats are borrowing liberally from McConnell’s playbook during the Trump years, when he focused intensively on confirming conservatives to lifetime terms on the federal courts. The White House moved swiftly to begin naming nominees for many of the most important posts this spring, far earlier than the historic norm, and Biden’s liberal allies on Capitol Hill have made their approval a top priority of an evenly split Senate.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.