Biden's newest judicial nominees include three to 9th Circuit

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks in honor of labor unions in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
  • Lucy Koh, Gabriel Sanchez, Holly Thomas nominated to 9th Circuit
  • Biden also nominated three to California's district courts

President Joe Biden on Wednesday took another step toward boosting diversity in the federal judiciary as he announced three new Latino nominees for the bench and sought to elevate the first Korean-American woman to serve as an appellate judge.

Biden's eight newest nominees included three for seats on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Lucy Koh, Gabriel Sanchez and Holly Thomas. And for the first time, Biden named three nominees for California's understaffed district courts.

"These first six judicial nominees to the federal courts in California highlight the strength and diversity of our great state," U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said in a statement.

The nominations, the seventh set by Biden since the Democrat entered the White House, brought the total number of nominees by Biden to 43. He has sought to diversify the bench both in terms of the personal and professional backgrounds of judges.

Koh, a federal district judge in San Jose, was previously nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to the 9th Circuit, which handles appeals from Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. But her nomination lingered in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and she was never confirmed.

The White House said Koh would be the first Korean-American woman to sit on a federal appeals court. She was a state court judge in California before being appointed to the federal bench in 2010, and had also been a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, where she focused on patent, trade secret and commercial cases.

Biden also nominated to the 9th Circuit Gabriel Sanchez, a judge on the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, and Holly Thomas, a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Before joining the court, Sanchez served as deputy legal affairs secretary to former California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and was earlier in his career an associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Thomas would be the second Black woman to ever serve on the 9th Circuit. She earlier in her career worked in the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

They would fill vacancies that will be created when three appointees by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, take senior status: Susan Graber, Marsha Berzon and Richard Paez.

At the district court level, Biden took his first step in addressing three of the 18 vacancies in California that are now considered "judicial emergencies," or vacancies that increase work for the other judges.

He nominated Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong and Hernán Vera for spots in the Central District of California and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Thurston to the Eastern District.

Feinstein said California's additional vacancies need to be filled "immediately" and that she and Senator Alex Padilla will work with the White House to pick candidates "who reflect the makeup of the state."

Biden also nominated U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Marie Menendez to be a district court judge in Minnesota and David Urias, an attorney at Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, to be a district court judge in New Mexico.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to say that the nominations were the seventh round by Biden.)

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