Biden Puts Another Former Public Defender Onto A U.S. Appeals Court

Veronica Rossman is now one of just eight U.S. appeals court judges with experience representing people who couldn't afford an attorney.
Veronica Rossman, a former public defender, now holds a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Veronica Rossman, a former public defender, now holds a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Handout . via Reuters

The Senate voted Monday night to confirm Veronica Rossman to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ― making her the only former public defender on that court and one of just a handful within the entire U.S. appeals court system.

Rossman, who is currently senior counsel at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming, was confirmed 50-42. Every Democrat present voted for her, along with two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine). See the full tally here.

Rossman’s confirmation is a win for President Joe Biden on two fronts. She adds to his current record of confirming more judges than any president in the last 50 years by this point in their terms. And she is the latest example of Biden following through on a promise to bring badly needed diversity to the nation’s courts ― both in terms of demographics like race and gender but also in terms of professional backgrounds.

Rossman, 49, has spent most of her career as a public defender, representing people in court who could not afford an attorney. Public defenders are hugely underrepresented on the nation’s courts; the vast majority of federal judges are former prosecutors and corporate attorneys. Rossman brings a much different perspective to the bench, having defended more than 250 indigent clients in her more than 10 years at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming.

“Her work on behalf of the indigent, defending the Constitution and the rights of those accused of crimes will bring much needed balance to a bench overwhelmed with former prosecutors and corporate lawyers,” said Chris Kang of Demand Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group.

Expanding professional diversity on federal courts can also affect case outcomes and the development of legal precedent. Judges with backgrounds as prosecutors or corporate lawyers are significantly more likely to rule in favor of employers in workplace disputes, according to a February study conducted by Emory University law professor Joanna Shepherd. (Demand Justice provided some financial support for this study.)

Rossman is now one of just eight active judges in the entirety of the U.S. appeals court system with experience as a public defender. That’s out of a total of 174 currently active judges on U.S. appeals courts.

Put another way: Only about 4.6% of all active U.S. appeals court judges have experience as a public defender.

Biden is responsible for nominating four of those eight U.S. appeals court judges, just eight months into his presidency. The other four were nominated by President Barack Obama over the course of his eight years in the White House.

“As former public defenders, civil rights attorneys, labor organizers and more, Biden’s judicial nominees bring a wealth of professional and lived experience that will be invaluable to the federal judiciary,” said Rakim Brooks, president of the judicial advocacy group Alliance for Justice. “Our democracy works best when people have faith and trust in our courts, so it is essential that our courts are fully representative of the diversity of our nation ― not just the wealthy and the powerful.”