Now that the Senate has adjourned for the year, it’s a good time to consider the important accomplishments, in terms of judicial nominations, that took place in 2014.
Diversity on the federal bench increased significantly. As of June 2014, the total number of confirmed female federal judges nominated by President Obama has exceeded that of any other President. And a total of 36 female federal judges was confirmed this year under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Reid. These appointments are changing the face of the federal judiciary: with the confirmation of eight female Court of Appeals judges this year, the percentage of active women judges on the federal appellate courts has almost reached 35 percent. The percentage of active female district court judges held steady at around 32 percent, and the percentage of female Justices on the Supreme Court remains at a record 33 percent.
In addition, this year a number of notable “firsts” were confirmed, including the first Native American female federal judge (Diane Humetawa), and the first female African-American federal judges in Georgia (Leslie Abrams and Eleanor Ross). In addition, the first female judges in the Eastern District of Tennessee (Pamela Reeves), the Eastern District of Wisconsin (Pamela Pepper), the Southern District of Illinois (Nancy Rosenstengel), and the Western District of Virginia (Elizabeth Dillon) were confirmed in 2014, along with the first female Tenth Circuit judge from Utah (Carolyn McHugh). Several LGBT judges were also confirmed, including Staci Yandle to the Southern District of Illinois (who is also the first African-American judge in that district) and Judith Levy to the Eastern District of Michigan.
With the confirmation of these and numerous other nominees this year, the number of judicial vacancies has dropped to 38, which is, for the first time, lower than the number of vacancies that existed on January 20, 2009 (55). Having courts functioning closer to full strength makes a real difference in the lives of women around the country, who rely on the courts to enforce legal protections against discrimination at work or at school and when making personal and private decisions about their health – among other things. And Senators can continue to do their part to ensure that justice is timely served next year, both by recommending individuals to the White House to fill judicial positions without delay, and by supporting that nominations, once made, are expeditiously reviewed and voted on by the Senate. Women around the country will be depending on it.