Obama’s Judicial Appointees Among Many California Firsts

Rob Hotakainen, Sacramento Bee, June 20, 2010

President Barack Obama is appointing women and minorities to federal judgeships at an unprecedented rate, and nowhere is the evidence more clear than in the Golden State.

If she can make it through a logjam of judicial nominees in the U.S. Senate, Kimberly Mueller will make history, becoming the first woman to win a U.S. District Court judgeship in Sacramento.

She’s among many firsts: Last week, Lucy Koh in California’s Northern District was confirmed as the nation’s first Korean American federal District Court judge; and in December Dolly Gee was confirmed in the state’s Central District as the first Chinese American federal District Court judge in the country.

Other minority nominees are pending: Edward Davila would become the only current Latino judge in the Northern District; and Goodwin Liu of San Francisco would become the nation’s first Taiwanese American federal appellate court judge.

But with the Senate at loggerheads over judicial nominees, it’s a long waiting game for many of the nontraditional nominees–and a source of frustration for their advocates.

“Look at who’s in the queue–it’s our people,” said Edwin Prather, president of the Asian Pacific Bar of California.

Obama has already done more to diversify the Supreme Court than any other president by choosing two women for the high court. His first choice, Sonia Sotomayor, is the first person of Latino heritage to serve on the Supreme Court.

So far, only 31 of Obama’s 72 district and appellate nominees have been confirmed, even though there are an estimated 100 vacancies.

Of Obama’s nominees, 43 percent are women and minorities, a much higher rate than any of his predecessors, according to an analysis by Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group.

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Consider the change in recent years: Of the 322 judges nominated and confirmed during George W. Bush’s presidency, 18 percent were minority, and 22 percent were female. Of the 372 judges nominated and confirmed during President Bill Clinton’s two terms in office, 25 percent were minorities, and 29 percent were women.

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Since Obama became president, she [Sen. Barbara Boxer] has recommended five people who were nominated: Mueller, Koh, Gee, Davila, and Anthony Battaglia in the state’s Southern District. That’s two Asian American women, one Latino man, one white woman and one white man.

During Clinton’s presidency, 14 people recommended by Boxer became District Court judges, including eight women and minorities: four women, one African American, two Asian Americans and one Latino.

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