Biden nominates three Latinos to the federal bench

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President Biden on Wednesday announced plans to nominate three Latino Americans to serve on the federal judiciary. 

The latest nominees advance Biden’s pledge to diversify the federal bench. They are part of the president’s seventh round of judicial nominees since taking office in January, a batch that includes eight new nominees.

Specifically, Biden is nominating Gabriel Sanchez, an associate justice on the California First District Court of Appeal, to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit; David Herrera Urias, a New Mexico-based attorney, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico; and Hernán Vera, a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

In a press release, the White House highlighted the diverse professional backgrounds of the latest batch of judicial nominees. For example, Vera worked for Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm that represents disadvantaged children, immigrants and individuals in underserved communities. Both Vera and Urias also worked for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

The White House has been under pressure from progressives to reach outside the traditional pool of former prosecutors, attorneys or major law firms and select judicial nominees who have experience as public defenders or in civil rights law.

“The inclusion of three extremely well-qualified Latino nominees, each with a track record of supporting civil rights, and two of whom spent part of their exemplary legal careers at MALDEF, demonstrates the Biden Administration’s commitment to including judges in our federal system beyond the usual former prosecutors and big-firm partners,” Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, said in a statement following the announcement.

Biden is also nominating Lucy Koh, a U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of California, to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. If confirmed by the Senate, Koh would be the first Korean American woman to become a federal appellate judge. Koh previously worked for private law firms in California and as an assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. attorney’s office in the Central District of California.

Holly Thomas, another nominee for the 9th Circuit, would be the second Black woman to serve on the 9th Circuit and the first woman to do so from California. Thomas is currently a judge in the Family Law Division of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Thomas previously worked at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and as an appellate attorney in the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

She also worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Christopher Kang, chief counsel at the progressive group Demand Justice, issued a statement commending Biden for the choices, particularly those with experience in civil rights law.

“By nominating lawyers with experience standing up for civil rights, consumers, and people accused of crimes, the administration is building on its clear commitment to improving professional diversity on a bench dominated by former prosecutors and corporate lawyers,” said Kang.

Biden has sought to make his mark on the federal judiciary after his predecessor, former President Trump, facilitated over 200 judicial nominations, giving the bench a conservative lean. 

The Senate has moved quickly to confirm Biden’s judicial nominees, outpacing Trump’s early record in confirming judges, however the chamber has lagged behind in confirming Biden’s other selections for executive branch positions.

Updated 11:56 p.m.

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