Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
According to data collected by the Federal Judicial Center, President Biden has appointed more federal judges at this point in his presidency than all but one other president. Just in case you're wondering, that other president is President George W. Bush. Biden's judicial appointments, however, are the most diverse in US history. Of those confirmed, nearly half are women of color, including of course, Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court.
Ketanji Brown Jackson: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am truly humbled by the extraordinary honor of this nomination, and I am especially grateful for the care that you have taken in discharging your constitutional duty in service of our democracy with all that is going on in the world today.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talking now to Candice Norwood, breaking news reporter for the 19th News. Candice, thanks so much for joining us.
Candice Norwood: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Talk about the different ways that President Biden has been working to diversify the federal bench.
Candice Norwood: Along with my reporting partner, Jasmine Matani, we looked at data from the Federal Judicial Center, comparing President Biden's current confirmed judges, not only breaking down that information in terms of race and gender but then also comparing it to his predecessors, President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama.
We found that of the 97 confirmed judges, President Biden had 75% of them were women, 47% of them were women of color, and that is a really stark contrast to President Donald Trump, who of the 85 judges he had confirmed by the end of his two years in office, 23% were women and just 2% were women of color.
Even comparing with someone like Barack Obama, who was also celebrated for having a wide diversity in terms of his confirmed judges, of the 62 judges he had confirmed at the end of the two years, 51% were women and 24% were women of color. We see a big shift even from that notable period in time. Biden has been prioritizing, clearly, women, women of color, but then also a wide variety of professional experience as well.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hmm. Well, okay. What do you mean by professional experiences? Aren't they all in the law profession? He didn't put veterinarians on the court, right?
Candice Norwood: No. In terms of when we look at federal judges, they typically come from backgrounds in prosecution work or in corporate law. What we've seen from President Biden in particular is a focus on different kinds of legal backgrounds, and that includes a notable number of people he has had confirmed to the appellate court level, which is the second highest level under the Supreme Court with backgrounds as public defenders.
Research that I looked at in my reporting indicates that public defenders are less likely to sentence someone to periods of incarceration. If they are going to sentence someone to incarceration, the sentences tend to be shorter. We are incorporating people as a number of judicial advocates, say, incorporating a number of people who really have firsthand direct experience working on behalf of everyday individuals.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're going to take a quick pause right here, and we'll be right back with more from The Takeaway right after this. We're back with Candice Norwood, breaking news reporter for the 19th News, talking about President Biden's historic appointments to the federal judiciary. Candice, as you were talking about sentencing and the practices of these judges, particularly, if they've come from a background that's included being a public defender, it reminds me, I just need to like clarify for myself, for our listeners, what kinds of cases do these judges decide? When Biden is diversifying the bench, what is he, in this case sort of being able to touch through these appointments
Candice Norwood: Federal judges hear a variety of cases, and a lot of them involve the constitutionality of different laws that are being passed around the country. For example, people may have heard in November when a federal judge struck down the Biden administration's plan to have student loan forgiveness, that received a lot of national attention.
In addition, there are issues of transgender rights and gun restrictions, which are obviously very salient right now amid a host of mass shootings that have already happened this year. There's a lot of different areas that federal judges as a whole can touch and including criminal issues which are of importance in terms of someone who has a public defender background and thinking about how to think about rehabilitation beyond the incarceration system, if that makes sense.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely. Tell us about Florence Pan, who's now on the DC Circuit Court as of September of last year.
Candice Norwood: Yes. Florence Pan made national attention in 2021 when she was confirmed to the DC District Court and became the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to that court at that time. A year later, she was confirmed to the next step up, which is the DC appellate court, replacing Ketanji Brown Jackson once she ascended to the US Supreme Court.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell us about J. Michelle Childs.
Candice Norwood: Biden, in his 2020 presidential campaign, had promised that he would appoint a Black woman to the US Supreme Court. That woman, as we know, is ultimately Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, but J. Michelle Childs was also in that conversation as well. She received attention being on the shortlist and ultimately went on to be confirmed, even though she wasn't picked for the Supreme Court nomination, was confirmed to the DC Court of Appeals as well.
I should note that both Childs and Pan, women of color, Childs being a Black woman, Pan being an Asian-American woman, being appointed to the DC Court of Appeals because, in terms of the hierarchy of courts, the appellate court level is the second under the US Supreme Court, but then the DC Court of Appeals is seen as the highest of the appellate court levels and has been a stepping stone for a number of other Supreme Court Justices.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering, as you talked about professional diversity, racial and gender diversity, what there is to be said as well about folks from law schools other than Yale, Harvard, Stanford?
Candice Norwood: Yes. Back when J. Michelle Childs was under consideration for the Supreme Court nomination, a lot of attention was brought to the fact that she is a state school graduate. That was a big deal because a lot of federal judges in general, but particularly when we're talking about the Supreme Court level, tend to come from Ivy League Schools, particularly Yale and Harvard.
To have someone, again, who has an experience that is more widely shared by the American public, those who are able to attend college, more likely than not, are attending a public institution. To have someone with that experience to know some of the issues that are affecting people at that level only adds to the broader diversity we've talked about already in terms of how these judges are thinking about and considering these issues.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Candice Norwood is breaking news reporter for the 19th News. Candice, thanks for being with us.
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