Federal Judges Are Retiring Now That Joe Biden Will Pick Their Replacements
Some federal judges waited for President Joe Biden to take office to announce their resignation, knowing that he would elect their replacement in place of former President Donald Trump. (Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
To at least one federal judge, it appeared that President Joe Biden couldn't be sworn in quickly enough.
"It has been an honor to serve," US District Judge Victoria Roberts wrote to Biden on the day of his inauguration, approximately 90 minutes after he took office, and announced her plans to resign. "I respectfully congratulate you on your election as 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris on your election as Vice President."
Roberts, who has been a judge at Michigan's Eastern District Court since 1998, announced that she would accept senior status or retire on February 24th. This opens up a new job for Biden with a court.
Here is a copy of Roberts' letter:
Roberts is one of five federal judges with life-long appointments who, according to the U.S. Courts Administration Bureau, announced plans for retirement or half-retirement since last Wednesday, the day Donald Trump left the White House. That was after eight judges announced they would step down since Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
The retirements keep coming. On Tuesday, two more U.S. district judges announced their plans to advance to higher status, although their names are not yet listed on the U.S. Courts Administration Office website. And there are likely others in the queue with similar plans.
While judges may, of course, have personal reasons to retire or semi-retire early in Biden's presidency, it is largely safe to say that the timing of these judges' departures is not accidental: they wanted Biden in Retire Vote their replacements, not Trump.
"Congratulations on our new president," US District Judge William Alsup wrote to Biden the day after his inauguration. "I think now is the time for me to get older."
Here is a copy of Alsup's letter:
A total of eight of these retired judges were appointed by President Bill Clinton and two by President Barack Obama. It would make sense if a Democratic president filled his vacancies. However, five of these judges were appointed by President George W. Bush.
That is not to say that a federal judge will only retire if the current president belongs to the same party as the president who nominated him. But it can be a motivating factor, especially for judges who served during Trump's tenure.
"I think this is less common than for a Supreme Court candidate where the judges are really trying to time their departures so the opposing party can't replace them," said Carl Tobias, law professor and expert at the University of Richmond on judicial nominations.
"Still, I think Trump is distorting the perspective here," he continued. “I think Trump was so angry with federal judges and so violated the rule of law that he dismissed many federal judges. I think, especially for strong Democrats, I could see judges say, "No, I'm not going to let him replace me."
Biden has not yet nominated judges, but his team wrote to the Democratic Senators last month asking them "as soon as possible" and no later than Jan. 19 to make recommendations for existing positions in the district courts.
As of Wednesday, 46 positions at district courts and three positions at appeals courts are to be filled in Biden - numbers that will only continue to increase.
The president has some work to do if he is to counter the effects of Trump on the nation's courts. Thanks in large part to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's laser focus on confirmation from judges, Trump has moved more than 230 people to lifelong judicial posts. That is far more than Obama (175), Bush (206) and Clinton (204) confirmed in their first terms.
Many of Trump's judges also fit a certain form: They are white, male, right-wing ideologues. Biden has vowed to add far more diversity to the courts, including appointing a black woman to the Supreme Court.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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