Black women from South Carolina and Indiana achieve milestones as they are confirmed as federal judges

Federal Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn Austin of South Carolina appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on November 29, 2023, for her nomination hearing.

The U.S. Senate has officially confirmed the appointments of two federal judges in South Carolina and Indiana. With this latest development, President Joe Biden has successfully chosen and received approval for a total of 35 Black women to serve as federal judges.

Judge Cristal Brisco has made history by becoming the first Black judge and woman of color to be appointed as a federal judge in the Northern District of Indiana. This achievement is a significant milestone for diversity and representation in the legal system. Additionally, Judge Jacquelyn Austin has also broken barriers as the only Black woman currently serving as a federal judge in the District of South Carolina. These appointments highlight the progress being made towards a more inclusive judiciary and are a step forward in promoting equal opportunities for all.

Brisco’s confirmation was approved by a vote of 67-32, while Austin’s confirmation was approved by a vote of 80-17.

Austin, a resident of Greenville, has taken on the role of filling the judicial seat that was left vacant after Michelle Childs was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2022. It is worth noting that Childs was one of the candidates on Biden’s shortlist for the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Biden has already secured confirmation for 170 judges by the Senate, according to the conference. These federal judges hold their positions for life, unless they choose to retire, pass away, or face impeachment.

Throughout history, the number of Black women who have held lifetime federal judge positions has been limited, with only 98 confirmed appointments. However, under the Biden administration, there has been significant progress in diversifying the judiciary. To date, President Biden has appointed 35 Black women as federal judges, accounting for nearly 35% of the total appointments. Notably, President Biden achieved another milestone by nominating Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lena Zwarensteyn, the senior director of the fair courts program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, emphasized the significance of milestones like this. She expressed her joy in celebrating this progress and acknowledged the valuable legal expertise that many of these judges, who are often underrepresented, bring to the bench.

According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, over two-thirds of the federal judges appointed by President Biden have been women and individuals from diverse racial backgrounds. This data is based on statistics from the Federal Judicial Center in November.

According to Pew Research Center, no president has ever appointed a majority of women or racial and ethnic minorities as judges.

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there are currently 62 judicial vacancies across U.S. courts. Additionally, there are 25 nominees pending confirmations.

According to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the first Black woman received a lifetime judicial appointment in 1966 under the Johnson administration. It is worth noting that there were no appointments of Black women judges during the Nixon and Ford administrations. However, President Jimmy Carter appointed a total of seven Black women as lifetime judges, while President Ronald Reagan appointed one.

Throughout the years, various presidents have made significant contributions towards diversifying the judiciary by appointing Black women to lifetime judicial seats. President George H.W. Bush appointed two Black women, while President Bill Clinton appointed 16. President George W. Bush continued this trend by appointing eight Black women. President Barack Obama further elevated this number by appointing 26 Black women to lifetime judicial positions. Lastly, President Donald Trump appointed two Black women, showcasing a continued effort to promote diversity in the judiciary.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Brisco received praise for her work as a state judge for the St. Joseph County Superior Court. Indiana’s GOP Sen. Todd Young backed her and spoke highly of her accomplishments.

“The dedication and hard work of our state court judges in upholding justice within our local communities is truly commendable,” Young expressed as he introduced Judge Gretchen Lund, along with another judicial nominee, before the committee in December.

The SC Daily Gazette has reported that two Black women, one from South Carolina and the other from Indiana, have recently been confirmed as federal judges. This milestone achievement signifies progress and diversity in the judicial system.

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