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Biden, Democratic-led Senate break record for confirming Black women to Court of Appeals

Before Joe Biden’s presidency, only eight Black women had been nominated and confirmed to the court in U.S. history.

By Oliver Willis - December 15, 2022
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Dana M. Douglas
Judge Dana M. Douglas speaks during a panel held by the Legal Services Corporation Disaster Task Force, March 24, 2020, in New Orleans.

Dana Douglas, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was confirmed by a vote of 65-31 in the Senate on Tuesday. With her confirmation, Douglas became the 11th Black woman nominated and confirmed to the appellate court under Biden, the most in a single session of Congress in U.S. history.

Douglas received support from all Senate Democrats who cast a vote and a few crossover Republican votes, but all the votes against her nomination came from Republican senators.

Before Biden was sworn in to the presidency, a total of eight Black women had previously been confirmed to the court throughout the entire history of the United States, according to the Federal Judicial Center’s database of federal judges.

Douglas previously served as a U.S. magistrate judge and will be the first Black woman to serve on the 5th Circuit court. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Douglas said she believes diversity in the courts is important.

“It was seeing people in positions who look like me that helped to make my own dreams as a kid feel much more tangible,” Douglas said, adding that if she were seated on the 5th Circuit, she hoped it would “serve as some motivation for anyone who is looking to learn from the process.”

Her successful nomination was praised by the National Urban League, a civil rights advocacy organization, which said in a statement, “We thank President Biden for his continued leadership to ensure our courts reflect the rich diversity of our nation’s people, and members of the United States Senate that voted in favor of Judge Douglas’ nomination for their efforts to push this confirmation through.”

Biden has emphasized diversity in his judicial picks and during his first year in office nominated more people of color (71.4% of picks) and more women (75% of picks) than any other president in U.S. history. During his time in office, by contrast, former President Donald Trump only nominated two Black women to positions on the federal judiciary. The previous time so few Black women had received nominations was in the early 1990s, under President George H.W. Bush.

Historically, Black women have not been well-represented on the federal bench, even though Black women are about 7.4% of the U.S. population.

Arguably Biden’s most significant nomination has been that of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court in April.

Biden has nominated more judges in the first two years of his presidency than any president other than John F. Kennedy. In the midterm elections last month, Democrats increased the size of their caucus in the Senate, meaning that even if Republican opposition is unified, the majority party can continue to approve judges.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently told HuffPost that confirming Biden’s judicial nominees ranks among his top accomplishments in the Senate and that he aims to “achieve balance” on the courts after Trump’s conservative confirmations.

“I feel vindicated that we’re counterbalancing the bench. I think our people are so good and so capable and so diverse,” Schumer said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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