Biden continues crusade to diversify federal judgeships with five new picks

Judge Salvador Mendoza (L) and Judge John Lee (R). Photos courtesy of U.S District Courts for Eastern District of Washington and Northern District of Illinois, respectively.
  • Biden nominates Judges John Lee and Salvador Mendoza to 7th, 9th Circuits
  • Iowa pick came at recommendation of Republican senators

(Reuters) - President Joe Biden unveiled five new judicial nominees on Wednesday as he moved to further diversify the bench by elevating Asian American and Hispanic district court judges in Illinois and Washington to serve on federal appeals courts.

Biden nominated U.S. District Judge John Lee in Chicago to serve on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza in Richland, Washington, to join the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Combined with three new district court nominees in Delaware, Illinois and Iowa, the latest nominations brought to 87 the number of federal appellate and district court picks that Biden has made since taking office a year ago.

He has pushed to aggressively diversify the federal bench demographically by often choosing women and people of color and has also pushed to diversify the bench in terms of judges' professional backgrounds.

The White House said that Lee, who has served as a judge in Northern District of Illinois since 2012, would be the first Asian American person to serve on the Chicago-based 7th Circuit, which hears cases from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Mendoza, who has served as a judge in the Eastern District of Washington since 2014, would be the first Hispanic judge from that state to ever serve on the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, the largest federal appeals court in the country.

Biden also nominated U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Locher to serve as a federal judge for the Southern District of Iowa at the recommendation of Republican Senators Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, and Joni Ernst.

He is the first Biden district court nominee to come from a state with only Republican senators, who under current Senate customs would need to return a "blue slip" for his nomination to advance.

Biden also nominated Nancy Maldonado, a partner at Miner, Barnhill & Galland, to serve in the Northern District of Illinois. She will become the first Hispanic woman to ever serve as a federal judge in the state.

Gregory B. Williams, a partner at Fox Rothschild, was meanwhile selected to become the only judge of color currently serving as a federal district court judge in Delaware and only the second Black judge on the federal bench there ever.

(NOTE: This story has been corrected to say that John Lee would be the first Asian American on the 7th Circuit.)

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