WASHINGTON, D.C., January 25, 2023 – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first judicial nominations hearing of the new Congress featuring five nominees to the federal district courts. With Democrats having gained a seat in the Senate, the next two years are a pivotal opportunity to fill the 100+ vacancies that remain on our federal courts.
This year’s expected confirmations will build on the incredible momentum of the previous two years, in which President Biden nominated 148 future judges, 97 who were confirmed by the end of 2022. Stats about these judicial nominees are detailed in Alliance for Justice’s 2022 End-of-Year Report. AFJ looks forward to the Committee confirming the remaining nominees and those yet to come.
One of the standout nominees at Wednesday’s hearing was Orelia Merchant, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Currently serving as Chief Deputy Attorney General for State Counsel in the New York State Attorney General’s Office, Merchant brings experience in a wide range of legal areas, including environmental justice enforcement actions, employment discrimination, medical malpractice, and white collar crime.
Another standout nominee was Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. She brings nearly a decade of a judicial experience. In 2013, she became an administrative law judge for the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings since 2013, and then in 2019 she was appointed to the Spokane County Superior Court, making her the first Black woman judge in Eastern Washington. If confirmed, Judge Bjelkengren would be the first woman of color to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington as well as the first Black woman to serve on a federal district court in the state of Washington.
Alliance for Justice President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement:
“It’s exciting to see the Senate Judiciary Committee resume its judicial nominations work knowing what must be accomplished over the next two years. Under Chair Durbin’s leadership, the Committee has already made incredible progress in restoring integrity to our federal courts. They are to be congratulated and we hope to see more of the same. Now is not the time to compromise on the quality of judicial nominees to appease intransigent Republican senators. The federal bench is still desperately understaffed and in desperate need of professional and demographic diversity — judges whose experience demonstrates their clear commitment to equal justice under the law and the rights of all people. We look forward to the committee fulfilling its commitment to undoing the damage conservative extremists are doing to our courts. They have just two years.”