By Ben Jealous, President of People For the American Way
Something amazing just happened in the U.S. Capitol.
On one day, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for five extraordinary women of color who have been nominated to federal judgeships by President Joe Biden. This judicial Dream Team will make our courts more representative of the American people. As judges, they will make our system more just. And they are building on an already exceptional record by the Biden White House and the Senate’s Democratic leadership to nominate and confirm what is by far the most diverse set of federal judges ever.
What a difference an election makes. Two-thirds of Trump’s judges were White men. In contrast, two-thirds of Biden’s judicial nominees, and more than three-quarters of his nominees to the important circuit courts of appeal—the level just below the Supreme Court—have been people of color. And that’s in addition to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will soon be sworn in as the first Black woman ever to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
The Far Right did everything they could to try to smear Judge Jackson and derail her confirmation. Her qualifications and character were unquestionable, so they resorted to utterly shameful distortions about her record.
They failed to block Judge Jackson’s confirmation, but that hasn’t stopped them from running the same unprincipled playbook against civil rights lawyer Nancy Abudu, who has been nominated to serve on the 11th Circuit Court. The same groups that attacked Judge Jackson tried to smear Abudu. But I am convinced they will fail for the same reasons.
Here, very briefly, are the latest members of the judicial Dream Team made possible by voters who elected President Joe Biden and took control of the Senate away from obstructionist-in-chief Mitch McConnell:
Nancy Abudu is a civil rights advocate who spent years defending voting rights, freedom of speech, religious liberty, equality under law, and other core constitutional principles. She helped defend a six-year-old Black student turned away from school on the first day of first grade because of his hairstyle. She will be the first Black woman to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Michelle Childs is a federal district judge nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010; President Biden has nominated her to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; he strongly considered her for the Supreme Court this year. In her years on the bench, Judge Childs has earned bipartisan respect for fairness while protecting voting rights and equal treatment in the courtroom.
Natasha Merle has been nominated as a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York. In her public-interest legal career she has served as a public defender in death penalty cases and as a civil rights attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she is deputy director of litigation, working to make real the promises of justice and equality.
Nusrat Jahan Choudhury has also been nominated as a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York. Her legal work at the American Civil Liberties Union has addressed racial disparities in law enforcement and unfair treatment of low-income people in the legal system. She will be the first Muslim woman to serve as a lifetime federal judge.
Ana Isabel de Alba has been nominated as a federal judge in the Eastern District of California, where she will be the first Latina judge. As a lawyer, she fought against barriers to justice facing mistreated farmworkers like her mother and advocated for immigrants’ rights. Since 2018 she has been a California Superior Court Judge in Fresno County.
If you ever notice yourself feeling too cynical to vote, or so fed up with slow progress or broken promises that you’re tempted to stay away from the ballot box, think about these women and remember this: President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans filled our federal courts with young and often unqualified judges committed to the same ideology as the Supreme Court justices who are stomping on voting rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, and more.
We need more judges who will be a voice for justice. Having five such women appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same day was a remarkable sign of the progress that can be made when we elect leaders who are committed to making progress and serving justice.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. A New York Times best-selling author, his next book “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free” will be published by Harper Collins in December 2022.