Joe Biden Nominates More Historic Firsts To Be Lifetime Federal Judges

One nominee could be the first Korean American woman to serve on a U.S. appeals court. Another could be the second Black woman to serve on the 9th Circuit.

President Joe Biden announced another historic slate of judicial nominees on Wednesday who would bring badly needed diversity to the nation’s federal courts.

His picks also begin to address a major vacancy problem on California’s courts.

Biden announced a total of eight new judicial nominees; three would fill seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and five would fill seats on U.S. district courts. All are up for lifetime appointments.

His picks include Lucy Koh, 53, for the 9th Circuit. Koh has been a U.S. district judge in California since 2010, and if confirmed, she would be the first Korean American woman to ever serve as a U.S. appeals court judge.

Biden also tapped Holly Thomas, 41, for the 9th Circuit. Thomas is currently a judge in the Family Law Division of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, and previously was a deputy director at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If confirmed, she would be the second Black woman to ever serve on the 9th Circuit.

The president also named Gabriel Sanchez, 45, for the 9th Circuit. Sanchez has been an associate justice on the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, since 2018, and previously worked as deputy legal affairs secretary to Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Biden’s other nominees include Katherine Marie Menendez for the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota; Hernán D. Vera for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; David Herrera Urias for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico; and Jennifer L. Thurston for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Notably, Biden also picked Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Frimpong has been a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court since 2016 and, if confirmed, she would be the only Black woman serving as an active judge on any of California’s four federal district courts.

President Joe Biden isn't "biden" his time when it comes to confirming judges.
President Joe Biden isn't "biden" his time when it comes to confirming judges.
Samuel Corum via Getty Images

With Wednesday’s nominees, Biden has now nominated a total of 43 people to federal judgeships. Thanks in part to the Democrat-led Senate, he has been confirming judges faster than any president in more than 50 years by this point in their terms.

His latest nominees also reflect his push to bring more diversity to the federal bench, both professionally and demographically. The courts have long been represented by white, male judges with backgrounds as corporate attorneys or prosecutors. President Barack Obama helped to diversify the courts, adding historic numbers of women and LGBTQ judges, for example. But former President Donald Trump reversed that trend by overwhelmingly nominating straight, white, male, right-wing ideologues.

As a candidate, Biden vowed to bring a diversity of perspectives onto the courts, even promising to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if and when a seat opens up there. He’s kept his word; so far, his court picks have been public defenders, civil rights lawyers, voting rights lawyers and historic firsts with Native American and Muslim American picks.

Wednesday’s nominees include people with backgrounds at legal civil rights organizations, too. Thomas worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Urias and Vera both worked for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

California’s senators praised Biden for his six picks for courts located in their state.

“If confirmed, this slate of nominees will bring historic personal and professional diversity to California’s federal bench,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). “Our justice system needs the experience and unique perspectives these public servants bring.”

But California needs far more nominees than Biden put forward Wednesday. The state still has a whopping 15 vacancies on its federal courts, in part because the state’s two U.S. senators aren’t moving quickly enough to recommend people to the White House to fill those seats.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) acknowledged there is more work to be done here.

“There are 15 additional vacancies on California’s district courts that need to be filled immediately and more expected next year,” Feinstein said. “I look forward to continuing to work with President Biden and Senator Padilla to ensure that the remaining vacancies on the federal courts in California are filled with well-qualified judicial candidates who reflect the makeup of the state.”