Biden gets three seats to fill on 4th, 6th Circuits as judges take senior status

U.S. President Joe Biden smiles after signing an executive order intended to reduce bureaucracy around government services for the public, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
  • Judges Motz, White and Cole to take senior status
  • Senate has confirmed 10 of Biden's appellate picks

(Reuters) - President Joe Biden will have three more appellate court vacancies to fill in the new year after a trio of judges on the 4th and 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced plans to step down from active service.

The decisions by U.S. Circuit Judges Diana Gribbon Motz of the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit and Helene White and R. Guy Cole of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th Circuit to take senior status were confirmed by judicial officials on Tuesday.

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

All three plan to take senior status upon Senate confirmation of their successors, according to a list of vacancies the judiciary publishes and a letter that Cole sent Biden on Friday.

Senior status is a form of semi-retirement for judges over the age of 65 who have completed at least 15 years on the federal bench. Presidents may name new full-time judges to fill those judges' seats.

The announcements add to 20 seats that Biden has the ability to fill on the nation's 13 federal appeals courts after several other judges, primarily Democratic-appointees, similarly elected to take senior status.

The Senate has moved rapidly to confirm Biden's judicial nominees while Democrats maintain their narrow control of the chamber. On Monday, it confirmed the 10th of Biden's appellate picks, Lucy Koh for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Even more spots could open: John Collins, a law professor at George Washington University who studies the judiciary and follows vacancies, on Twitter said 23 Democratic-appointed judges will be eligible for senior status by the end of 2022.

Cole, 70, and Motz, 78, were both nominated by former Democratic President Bill Clinton and won Senate confirmation in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Cole served as the 6th Circuit's chief judge from August 2014 to May 2021.

White, 67, too was initially nominated by Clinton but her 1997 nomination languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republican President George W. Bush renominated her in 2008 in a deal with Michigan Democrats when their party controlled the Senate.

Motz's decision gives Biden his third seat to fill on the 4th Circuit, which has nine active Democrat-appointed judges, including her, and six Republican-appointed judges. Biden's only nominee so far, Toby Heytens, was confirmed in November.

Biden has an opportunity to name three members of the 6th Circuit, which has 11 Republican appointees, including White, and five Democratic ones, including Cole. He has nominated one, Andre Mathis, a partner at Butler Snow in Memphis.

Read more:

U.S. Senate confirms Koh to 9th Circuit, with Sung vote looming

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.