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Historic judicial nominees roll alongside infrastructure bill

Biden's nomination of Eunice Lee on track for confirmation, with history-making LGBTQ picks likely to follow

Eunice C. Lee, nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the 2nd Circuit, had a confirmation hearing in June.
Eunice C. Lee, nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the 2nd Circuit, had a confirmation hearing in June. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Amid the infrastructure debate in the Senate and at the White House itself, the Biden administration’s effort to continue to diversity the federal courts continues apace.

Senators were scheduled to vote to limit debate on the nomination of Eunice C. Lee on Thursday afternoon. Lee was recommended by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who noted at her confirmation hearing that she would be the first person with a career as a public defender on the 2nd Circuit.

“Ms. Lee is not a former prosecutor or a product of a big corporate law firm. Instead, Ms. Lee spent her entire career in public service, dedicating herself to representing those criminal defendants who cannot afford counsel. If confirmed, she would be the only federal defender among the 2nd Circuit’s active judges — the only one,” the New York Democrat said June 9.

“I recommended her to President Biden and not only because she was outstanding, but because we want to bring a great diversity of experience as well as other reasons for diversity, racial and religious, LGBTQ, et cetera,” Schumer said. “But we want experience diversity.”

The effort to diversify the professional histories of the kinds of lawyers who become federal judges has been a bit of a hallmark of the Biden White House.

Once the confirmation is finalized, Lee will also become just the second Black woman ever to serve on the New York-based court.

“He’s made it a chief priority to nominate deeply qualified nominees who are devoted to the rule of law and who represent the diversity of the country. He’s done that at a historic pace. And his nominees are also being confirmed with unprecedented speed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, addressing the judicial nominations at Thursday’s White House press briefing.

“Under … the president’s leadership, we’ve also confirmed the most African American women as federal circuit judge — judges of any single presidential term in American history, and the first Muslim Article III judge in American history,” Psaki said, referring to the shorthand for Supreme Court justices and federal circuit and district judges, as outlined in Article III of the Constitution. “He’s also chosen nominees from a wide variety of backgrounds, prosecutors and also public defenders, law firm lawyers and civil rights attorneys. That will continue to drive his decisions moving forward.”

The White House announced a number of additional judicial nominations Thursday, including plans to nominate Beth Robinson, an associate justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, to be a federal appeals court judge on the 2nd Circuit.

If confirmed, she would be the first openly LGBTQ woman on a federal appeals court.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., who is also a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, lauded the Robinson nomination, citing her landmark legal career.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Beth Robinson helped Vermont — and America — more fully realize the meaning of equality under the law.  As a civil litigator specializing in constitutional law and LGBTQ rights, Beth served as co-counsel the Baker v. State of Vermont lawsuit, in which the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriage denied equal rights guaranteed by the Vermont Constitution,” Leahy said in a statement. “Beth’s success in the Baker case directly resulted in Vermont’s enactment of the first civil union law in America.”

The list also includes Charlotte Sweeney, who is President Joe Biden’s choice to be a district judge in Colorado. She would be the first LGBTQ federal judge west of the Mississippi River, according to the White House.

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