Joe Biden is Changing the Court System. Again.
Earlier this year, I wrote about how Donald Trump was revolutionizing the court system, replacing many of the vacancies with conservative judges, allowing him to exert his influence on the judicial system. Joe Biden is doing something along those lines as well.
Donald Trump’s most impactful legacy is likely his effect on the judicial system: because Mitch McConnell had been blocking then-President Obama’s nominees during his last year in office, Trump came into office with a Supreme Court vacancy, as well as a number of significant others to fill. Throughout his term, he continued to confirm nominees, resulting Trump’s judges making up 30% of the federal judiciary.
But what has Joe Biden done thus far?
The Biden Impact on the Judicial Branch
Biden campaigned on undoing Trump’s judicial appointments by appointing a slate of diverse judges, racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically. And he’s done just that.
Almost three-quarters of Joe Biden’s judicial appointments have been non-white, and approximately the same amount have been women. That’s never been seen before in any administration prior to Biden’s.
Biden’s goal to increase diversity on the bench comes from the progressive ideal to increase the backgrounds that are making some of the most important decisions in the country. By promoting those from a diverse array of perspectives, progressives believe that a wider spectrum of people will be represented in a judicial system that often includes only those of affluent, wealthy, and often white backgrounds.
One facet of Biden’s contradictory judicial appointments comes with his trend towards picking those coming from elite institutions. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were the first blue ticket since 1984 without graduates of Ivy League institutions. However, Biden’s appointments have largely come from those very institutions.
According to FiveThirtyEight, almost a quarter of Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s nominees come from Ivy League institutions for undergraduate studies, some of the most elite institutions in the world. Criticized for being primarily accessible to the rich and wealthy, these institutions are often seen as one of the necessities of going into public service, given the amount of alumni from them already in the government. It’s not necessarily fitting with providing the bench of “the people” that Biden promoted during his campaign.
Continuing with the Status Quo
However, Joe Biden’s effect has been largely limited to states Democrats already have control in. Nearly all of Biden’s nominees have been placed in Democrat states, ones where the justices are already heavily liberal. Opposed to Trump’s nomination process, in which he put Republican justices all across the country, Biden hasn’t been able to do the same.
And he’s also continued the trend of hotly contested confirmations. Before the 2000s, nominations were often nearly unanimous; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a renowned liberal attorney at the time of her confirmation, for instance, was confirmed 96–3. Biden’s confirmations, just like Trump’s and Obama’s, were just about party-line votes, simply because of the impact that judicial appointments now have on policy decisions.
Future Implications for Judicial Appointments
In the near future, as soon as 2022 according to most election experts, Democrats will lose their control of Congress, especially given the trend that the opposition picks up large numbers in the first midterm after a President’s first term in office. That means that Democrats will likely rush most of their nominations through, trying to minimize the number of vacancies when the new Congress takes over and has the power to reject all of Biden’s nominees until the end of his term.
Until then, Biden and his administration are likely to continue promoting a diverse array of justices, from all backgrounds, in order to fulfill Biden’s campaign promise of doing just that.