Senate Democrats marked a milestone on Tuesday: They confirmed the first judicial nominee of President Joe Biden’s administration.
The Senate voted 66-33 to confirm Julien Xavier Neals, 56, to a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Every Democrat voted to confirm Neals, along with 17 Republicans. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the only senator who did not vote.
Neals was previously a nominee to this court in 2015, when President Barack Obama nominated him. But then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) let Neals’ nomination gather dust for more than a year until it eventually expired in January 2017.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted the significance of Neals’ confirmation and said he’s eager to get moving on more of Biden’s court picks.
“The first, but certainly not the last, not even close,” Schumer said ahead of the vote. “I greatly look forward to confirming what will be the first of many judicial appointments during the Biden administration.”
The Senate confirmed Biden’s second judicial nominee later Tuesday. Senators voted 72-28 to confirm Regina Rodriguez, 57, to a lifetime seat on a U.S. district court in Colorado.
The president offered his “sincere gratitude” to the Senate for confirming both of his nominees with strong bipartisan support.
“They are both highly qualified, and they represent the diversity that is one of the ultimate strengths of our nation ― in all branches of government, including the judiciary,” he said in a statement. “Other nominees are awaiting confirmation who also have bipartisan support, and I hope they will be rapidly confirmed as well.”
Trump’s first judicial nominee was confirmed much earlier than Biden’s. It was Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who Republicans rushed through to confirmation on April 7, 2017, less than three months after Donald Trump was sworn into office. Gorsuch filled the Supreme Court seat that Republicans had prevented Obama from filling for nearly a year with his nominee, Merrick Garland, who is now the U.S. attorney general.
But Biden is on track to confirm more judges by July than any president has done in their first year in more than 50 years.
“I look forward to continuing to make nominations at an historic pace and working closely with the Senate on many more confirmations,” he said.
Progressive groups are agitating for Democrats to make confirming judges a top priority now that they control the Senate and the White House. Thanks largely to McConnell, Trump appointed more than 230 lifetime federal judges during his four years as president. That’s more than Obama (175), George W. Bush (206) and Bill Clinton (204) did in their first terms in the White House.
Trump’s court picks were also very homogenous. Many were conservative white male corporate lawyers. Progressive groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, Demand Justice and Service Employees International Union have been pressing Democratic senators to recommend much more diverse nominees to the president, in terms of race and gender but also in professional background.
Biden has 17 other judicial nominees awaiting Senate action. As of Tuesday, there are 80 vacancies on U.S. district and appeals courts.