President Barack Obama is not only breaking barriers in his appointments to the highest court in the land, he’s quickly reshaping the lower ranks of the federal judiciary, nominating an unprecedented number of minorities and women.
Monday night, the Senate confirmed three of Obama’s judicial picks–all of them women. Among them is Lucy Koh of California, who is slated to become the nation’s first Korean-American district court judge.
Also pending confirmation is Goodwin Liu, who would become the first Taiwanese-American federal appellate court judge–though his nomination is threatened by Republicans who believe he’s too liberal.
Of Obama’s 70 appellate and district court nominees, 44 percent are female and 43 percent are minorities, according to recent analysis by the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group. By contrast, only 22 percent of President George W. Bush’s 322 confirmed judges were female and less than 18 percent were minorities.
Of President Bill Clinton’s 372 confirmed judges, 29 percent were women and 25 percent were minorities.
If confirmed, Wiliam Martinez, a native of Mexico City, would become the first immigrant to serve on the U.S. District Court of Colorado. Albert Diaz of North Carolina is waiting to become the first Hispanic to serve on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. And Benita Pearson could become the first African-American woman to serve on the First District Court in Ohio.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said it’s healthy to have diversity in the courts but not when judges begin favoring their own constituencies.
“There have been disturbing concepts that have arisen out of the diversity question, and President Obama has suggested that you put a person on the bench to represent that ethnic group,” Sessions said Monday. “When the president says he wants someone with empathy, he wants someone with bias.”
After weeks of delay, Liu, whom Obama tapped for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee last month with no support from Republicans. And some have hinted at a possible filibuster.
If confirmed, the 39-year-old Liu would become the first Taiwanese-American to serve on a federal appeals court and is often mentioned as a possibility to become the first Asian-American to serve on the Supreme Court.
But conservatives paint him as a liberal judicial activist who has defended same-sex marriage and affirmative action and criticized Bush’s Supreme Court appointees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Upon Jacqueline Nguyen’s confirmation in December as the first Vietnamese-American district court judge, Leahy said, “Diversity on the bench helps ensure that the words ‘equal justice under law,’ inscribed in Vermont marble over the entrance to the Supreme Court, are a reality and that justice is rendered fairly and impartially.”