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Biden Announces Ninth Circuit, California District Picks (1)

Sept. 8, 2021, 2:48 PMUpdated: Sept. 8, 2021, 6:46 PM

President Joe Biden announced eight planned judicial nominees Wednesday, including three California picks for the San Francisco-based federal appeals court and three California district courts.

The long-anticipated California picks give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit a full slate of nominees in the pipeline and mark the first district picks for the state’s federal district courts.

“These first six nominees to the federal courts in California highlight the strength and diversity of our great state,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a tweet. “After reviewing more than 300 applications to the federal judiciary, I’m confident that these nominees will make outstanding jurists.”

The intended nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit are:

  • Lucy H. Koh, a judge in the Northern District of California;
  • Gabriel P. Sanchez, an associate justice on the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District; and
  • Holly A. Thomas, a judge in the Family Law Division of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

They add to one Ninth Circuit pick already in the pipeline, which gives all four of that court’s vacancies a pending nominee.

The California district nominees are:

  • Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong, for the Central District of California;
  • Judge Hernán D. Vera, for the Central District of California; and
  • Judge Jennifer L. Thurston, for the Eastern District of California.

The nominees come as the Senate prepares to return from recess. The Democratic-led chamber has so far confirmed nine of Biden’s nominees to lifetime federal judgeships.

California Judges

The Ninth Circuit is often seen as a liberal stronghold, but President Donald Trump was able to increase the number of conservatives on the court during his administration. Biden’s picks would all replace Democratic-appointees holding California seats on the court.

California has 20 current and expected district vacancies, the most of any state. All 18 currently vacant district seats are considered “judicial emergencies,” which increase the workload for the remaining judges.

Eastern District of California Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller in July called the vacancies “crushing.” Of the Eastern District’s six seats, two are vacant and one will become vacant in April 2022.

In addition to the three California district picks, Biden also announced plans to nominate Judge Katherine Marie Menendez to the District of Minnesota and David Herrera Urias to the District of New Mexico.

The Ninth Circuit also includes Alaska, Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington.

Diversity

The new picks would bring demographic and professional diversity to their respective courts, something the Biden administration has prioritized with judicial nominees.

Thomas, one of the Ninth Circuit picks, was immediately praised by progressives for the professional diversity she would bring to the court as someone with a civil rights background.

“Her work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has given her necessary experience to balance a federal bench that is dominated by former prosecutors and corporate lawyers,” said Chris Kang, chief counsel and co-founder of the progressive judicial activism group Demand Justice

Koh would be the first Korean-American woman to serve as a federal judicial nominee and Thomas would be the second Black woman to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit, according to the White House. The list also included three Latino nominees.

Biden has faced pressure from advocates, like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who want to see him select more Latino and Latina judicial nominees. Two of the new district picks, Vera and Urias, previously worked for MALDEF as staff attorneys.

(Updates with more detail throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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