Progressive Groups Ask Senators To Commit To No Corporate Lawyers For Biden's Judge Picks

"If the American public is to maintain faith in our judicial system," it's time for more public defenders and civil rights lawyers on the federal bench, the groups say.

Thirty progressive organizations on Tuesday asked Democratic senators to publicly commit to recommending much more professionally diverse judicial candidates to President Joe Biden as federal court vacancies open up in their states.

“We ... ask you to commit to supporting President Biden’s goal of nominating professionally diverse candidates for our federal district courts by fulfilling his request that you recommend public defenders, civil rights lawyers, and public interest lawyers when judicial vacancies occur in your state,” reads a March 16 letter from groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Demand Justice and Service Employees International Union. “If the American public is to maintain faith in our judicial system, it is critical that we restore balance to a bench where former corporate lawyers and prosecutors are so heavily overrepresented.”

In December, White House counsel Dana Remus told Democratic senators to try to find public defenders and civil rights attorneys in their states who they think would be a good fit for a federal judgeship. Senators recommend judicial nominees to the president as the first step in filling a federal court vacancy in their home state, so they play a huge role in the president’s judicial selection process.

“We ask that you respond by March 31 with a public commitment to following the Remus letter and to recommending lawyers for federal judicial vacancies in your state who satisfy the President’s request for candidates with careers dedicated to Americans in every walk of life,” reads the letter from the groups.

Here’s a copy of their letter, first obtained by HuffPost:

Progressives have long been calling for more diversity in federal court picks, particularly when it comes to professional background. Former President Donald Trump’s picks didn’t add much diversity to the courts at all; most of his federal judges are white men with ties to corporate law firms. Former President Barack Obama put a historic number of women and minorities on the federal bench. But even he didn’t put forward many people who didn’t have a background in corporate law.

The concern with so many federal judges having backgrounds in corporate law is their unfamiliarity with the legal needs of everyday people who are living with low incomes or otherwise marginalized. A more diverse mix of legal professionals on the bench would result in more informed decisions on issues related to civil and human rights, reproductive rights and economic justice.

As it stands, there is not a single federal appeals court judge who spent their career at a nonprofit civil rights organization, according to the Center for American Progress.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 11.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 11.
J. Scott Applewhite via AP

Biden, for his part, has signaled that he’s ready to diversify the courts. He’s vowed to make his first Supreme Court nominee a Black woman, and he’s already getting input from Democrats on who they think that nominee should be. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), for one, has lobbied the White House to nominate U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs if a vacancy opens up on the high court, The New York Times reported last month.

Biden hasn’t announced any of his judicial nominees yet. But his first batch should be coming “soon,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told HuffPost on Tuesday.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.

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