In milestones, Black women from South Carolina and Indiana confirmed as federal judges

By: - January 24, 2024 5:21 pm

St. Joseph County, Indiana, Superior Court 4 Judge Cristal Brisco, who was confirmed as a federal judge on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (Photo courtesy of her office)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Wednesday confirmed the nominations of two federal judges in South Carolina and Indiana, bringing the total number of Black women tapped by President Joe Biden and cleared by senators as federal judges to 35.

Judge Cristal Brisco is now the first Black judge and woman of color to serve as a federal judge in the Northern District of Indiana, and Judge Jacquelyn Austin will be the only Black woman currently serving as a federal judge in the District of South Carolina, according to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Brisco was confirmed 67-32 and Austin was confirmed 80-17.

So far, Biden has nominated 170 judges confirmed by the Senate, the conference said. Federal judges serve for life unless they retire, die or are impeached.

Historically, only 98 Black women have been confirmed as lifetime federal judges, and of that number, Biden has appointed 35, or nearly 35% of the total amount. Biden is also the first president to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Federal Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn Austin of South Carolina during her Nov. 29, 2023 nomination hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. (Screenshot from committee webcast)

“Milestones like this are important,” said Lena Zwarensteyn, senior director of the fair courts program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We celebrate this progress, including the critical yet underrepresented legal backgrounds that many of these judges bring to the bench.”

More than two-thirds of Biden’s picks for federal judges have been women and people of color, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of statistics from the Federal Judicial Center in November.

“(N)o president has ever appointed a slate of judges consisting mostly of women or racial and ethnic minorities,” according to Pew Research Center.

There are currently 62 judicial vacancies across U.S. courts, with 25 nominees pending confirmations, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The first lifetime judicial appointment for a Black woman was in 1966 during the Johnson administration, according to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. There were no appointments in the Nixon and Ford administrations. President Jimmy Carter appointed seven lifetime judges who were Black women, and President Ronald Reagan appointed one.

President George H.W. Bush appointed two Black women to lifetime judicial seats; President Bill Clinton appointed 16; President George W. Bush appointed eight; President Barack Obama appointed 26; and President Donald Trump appointed two.

Brisco had the backing of Indiana’s GOP Sen. Todd Young, and during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, he praised her work as a state judge for the St. Joseph County Superior Court.

“The judges in our state courts are working incredibly hard every day to administer justice in our local communities,” Young said as he introduced her and another judicial nominee, Judge Gretchen Lund, before the committee in December.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

MORE FROM AUTHOR