by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Biden will have a chance to rework the federal judiciary as an increasing number of judges retire from the bench.
A spate of judges has moved to senior status since Biden took office, with the first, the Bill Clinton-appointed Victoria Roberts, announcing her move just hours after Biden’s inauguration. Senior status is an arrangement that eases judges toward retirement, giving the president’s team time to vet candidates for a replacement.
Biden entered the White House with 57 judicial vacancies, a far cry from the 117 openings that awaited President Donald Trump when he took office. But during Biden’s first few weeks, judges moving toward retirement quickly raised those numbers. There are now 20 seats in which judges have moved to senior status, giving the new president a chance to hack away at what legal experts have called Trump’s most enduring legacy.
Many of the judges leaving the bench were Democratic nominees who proved decisive in high-profile cases. Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Clinton nominee who moved to senior status on Thursday, became a national figure last year while presiding over the Justice Department’s prosecution of Trump associate Michael Flynn. At one point in the trial, Sullivan told Flynn, “You sold your country out.”
Judge Mary Briscoe, who moved to senior status on Friday, helped lead a 2012 panel that shut down Kansas Republicans in a redistricting case. Judge Carlos Lucero, who announced his move the week before, became nationally prominent in 2014 when he wrote the opinion striking down Utah’s gay marriage ban a year ahead of the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Like Sullivan and Roberts, both Briscoe and Lucero were appointed by Clinton.
Other retiring judges include California Judge William Alsup, who has been at the center of a series of Big Tech cases, and Robert Katzmann, a New York Appeals Court judge who presided over a series of investigations against Trump.