WASHINGTON — The Senate began to approve President Joe Biden's first judicial nominees this week, marking the start of an ambitious push to make an impact on the federal courts.
The Senate voted 66-33 on Tuesday to confirm Julien Xavier Neals to be a district court judge in New Jersey.
Next up on Tuesday is Regina M. Rodriguez to be a district court judge in Colorado.
The two were advanced in committee last month, along with three other nominees, including Ketanji Brown Jackson for the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they were "the first of many jurists that the Democratic-led Senate will consider to restore the balance to the federal judiciary."
He said the Senate will "swiftly and consistently" process Biden's judicial picks, "bringing balance, experience and diversity back to the judiciary."
Republicans aggressively reshaped the judiciary with young conservatives during the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump appointed 234 judges to the federal bench, flipping the ideological balance in numerous circuit courts and installing three justices to create the most conservative Supreme Court in nearly a century.
Schumer said many of them were "woefully inexperienced and far outside the judicial mainstream."
A vote on Jackson in the full Senate is expected in the coming weeks. She is seen as a likely short-lister for a Supreme Court vacancy should one open up during Biden's presidency.
The courts-focused progressive group Demand Justice launched a six-figure ad campaign Monday to build support for Jackson, targeting Black audiences on radio and digital platforms.
Schumer also recommended two voting rights lawyers for judgeships: Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union for the Southern District of New York.
Neals and Rodriguez were nominated for judgeships during the Obama administration but did not come up for votes in the Senate, which was then run by Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the current minority leader.
Under precedents established by both parties, the 60-vote threshold has been abolished for all judicial confirmations. Nominees can advance with simple majorities.
A separate rule, established in 2019, cut debate time from 30 hours to two hours for certain types of nominees, including those for district court judgeships, so Republicans could quickly confirm Trump's picks. The precedent will enable Democrats to speedily confirm a number of Biden's nominees.
There are 71 vacancies in district courts and nine openings in appeals courts, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The numbers are set to rise with additional retirements.
The judicial battle could further heat up if a Supreme Court justice retires. Some progressive activists, including Demand Justice, are pushing Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, to retire while Democrats control the Senate so they can confirm a liberal successor.
Breyer has not given any indication that he plans to step aside.