Two-thirds of President Biden’s nominees to the federal courts have been people of color. 70% are women and 8% identify as LGBTQ.
His first choice for the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, is the first black woman to serve there.
But when it comes to Latinos, Biden’s record on expanding the diversity of the U.S. justice system falls far short of the size and growth of the community, advocacy groups say.
“He’s appointed black people at an unprecedented rate and he’s done very well for Asian Americans,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president of Los Angeles-based MALDEF, or the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “It’s done pretty well for everybody — except Latinos.”
MALDEF has criticized the White House for what it describes as a “harsh message of exclusion” and “miserable treatment of the Latino community in Biden’s judicial nominations.”
As Biden nears the midpoint of his four-year term, he has made 134 nominations to federal courts, and 75 of those have been confirmed by the Senate.
Across all federal courts, 42 of his 134 nominees are black, 29 Latino, 23 Asian American and three Native American.
Among his 36 nominations to US appeals courts, 15 are black, 10 are white, six are Asian American and five are Latino.
Progressives praised Biden’s court nominees not only for their racial and ethnic diversity, but also for their “professional diversity.” They include attorneys who have worked as public defenders and consumer advocates. They include two of the nation’s leading voting rights advocates and a leading abortion rights attorney.
But Saenz argues that the president is not significantly increasing Latino representation in the federal courts and is leaving the major appellate courts without any Latino judges.
MALDEF had urged the White House to nominate a Latino to the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago, the 10th Circuit Court in Denver and the 5th Circuit Court, which includes Texas. Those major appellate courts oversee areas with significant Latino populations, but currently do not have a single Latino judge and in some cases have never had one, Saenz said.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court, has also never had a Latino judge. Saenz publicly protested in May after the White House made a third nomination to that court without picking a Latino.
“President Biden obviously just doesn’t care,” his statement concluded.
A month later, the president announced another slate of nominees that included Bradley Garcia, a Justice Department lawyer and former Justice Elena Kagan clerk, for a seat on the D.C. District Court.
“Part of the problem is that the White House staff doesn’t have prominent Latino voices,” Saenz said. “But so is the president himself. He has a higher level of comfort and familiarity with the black community and Asian Americans than he does with the Latino community.”
The White House declined to comment specifically on MALDEF’s criticism, but defended Biden’s record.
“The president has led the way by advancing highly qualified judicial nominees who are committed to the Constitution and the rule of law and who represent our nation’s personal and professional diversity in an unprecedented way,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates. statement.
Biden’s record among federal district judges is stronger when it comes to Latinos. Among Biden’s 95 nominees, 23 of them, or about 1 in 4, are Latino.
But Saenz noted last year that the White House chose only one Latino among its first six nominees for California’s Central District, which includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties . area where Latinos are likely to be the majority in the coming years.
Analysts who follow the federal courts closely say Biden deserves praise for the diversity of his nominations and his speed in confirming them.
“Biden came out of the box quickly and is the most diverse field of candidates ever,” said Russell Wheeler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial nominations.
With 75 new justices confirmed since the August recess of his second year, Biden is ahead of Presidents Trump and Obama, who had 50 and 40 confirmations, respectively, in their second year in office.
But Biden and the Democrats may struggle to match Trump’s record, particularly if they lose control of the Senate after the midterm elections. In his four-year term, Trump appointed 232 judges and three Supreme Court justices.
Rakim Brooks, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, praised Biden’s record so far on judicial nominees.
“He recognized that the courts did not reflect the country,” he said. Most of the judges were white men who worked as corporate lawyers or as prosecutors, he said.
The Biden White House has sought well-qualified lawyers who have represented unions, consumers, criminal defendants and civil rights plaintiffs.
Brooks said Senate Democrats will have to push hard to confirm several dozen of Biden’s nominees before the midterms and then hope they can retain control of the Senate.
During Obama’s last two years in office, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked most of his court nominees, including Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick for a vacant seat in the Supreme Court.
If Republicans win control of the Senate this fall, Brooks said, Biden’s effort to reshape the federal courts “will grind to a halt.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.