Current News



Biden has bolstered 9th Circuit's liberal flank, but has yet to match Trump's impact

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — President Joe Biden is leaving a distinct mark on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, adding relatively young jurists of color who have bolstered the influential court’s liberal flank.

So far, the president has appointed three Asian women, a Black woman and two Latino judges, all of whom have extensive experience in legal fields important to progressives, including civil, labor and voting rights law. And he is poised to fill two additional seats on the circuit. The eight appointments during Biden’s first term would be one more than President Barack Obama made to the court during his two terms in office.

“It’s clear that Biden is going to have a lasting influence on the 9th Circuit by virtue of who he has picked. He certainly has enhanced the diversity,” said University of California, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

Despite the president’s leftward push, Chemerinsky cautioned against overstating Biden’s impact, saying he is trying to regain ground lost in an aggressive campaign by former President Donald Trump to stack the nation’s federal benches with conservative jurists.

“He has not shifted the ideological composition” of the traditionally liberal, California-based court as much as Trump did, Chemerinsky said. The circuit’s judges, he said, are now “closely split between Democratic and Republican appointees.”

The political makeup of the judges who serve on the 9th Circuit, a massive jurisdiction that includes nine Western states and two U.S. territories, has broad implications. The court helps set legal precedent around some of the nation’s most pressing cultural and political issues, from gun control, religious freedom and environmental regulations to labor and tech policy.


During his single term in office, Trump managed to appoint 10 judges to the 9th Circuit, four of whom replaced judges appointed by Democrats. Among the judges who departed was Stephen Reinhardt, who sat on the 9th Circuit for 38 years and was considered its “liberal lion.”

“Trump was able to have exaggerated importance in that way,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who studies the court.

By comparison, the six judges Biden has appointed to the court so far all replaced older judges who were appointed by Democratic presidents and also leaned liberal. The two additional judges Biden is expected to replace were also appointed by Democrats.

Biden’s appointments still represent a net gain for liberals, particularly given that the liberal judges he replaced all remain on part-time “senior status” and will continue hearing appeals and issuing opinions. However, the effect is less than it would be had Biden replaced conservative judges, experts said.


swipe to next page

©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus