With the addition of two new senators, some advocates hope the powerful Senate committee that oversees the judicial nominations process will put a greater focus on the diversity, or lack thereof, among President Donald Trump’s nominees.
Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Kamala Harris, D-California, both said Tuesday they’ve been appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Together they are the second and third African-Americans to sit on the committee, which holds hearings on and approves judicial nominees. The first was Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Illinois, who sat on the committee in the 1990s.
The appointments come as the Trump administration continues to face criticism for the lack of diversity among the president’s judicial nominees. In the first year of his presidency, roughly 90 percent of Trump’s nominees for the federal bench are white. One nominee is African-American, one is Hispanic and four are Asian-American.
“In the same way that we want the diversity on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, even more important than that is diversity among judges,” Booker said in a Congressional Black Caucus forum on diversity in judicial nominations Tuesday afternoon.
Democrats and liberal advocacy groups argue that the lack of diversity among Trump’s nominees for the federal bench erodes trust in the judiciary.
In Tuesday’s forum, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C., congratulated Booker and Harris, and noted that one of the reasons the Congressional Black Caucus had to hold its forum was because of the absence of people of color on the Senate committee.
“Nobody was on the committee to ask the question, are there any African-Americans? Are there any Hispanics that can be found, for these judgeships? We are speaking out because we don’t know anything else to do,” the congresswoman, who chairs the CBC’s judicial nominations working group, said in the forum.
In a statement, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, applauded the additions of Booker and Harris to the committee.
“The appointments of Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris recognizes the importance of different perspectives and the value of diversity on the committee, which has jurisdiction over important issues including voting rights, judicial nominations and criminal justice reform,” Clarke said in a statement. “We urge the Senate to continue to take action that ensures that the voice of the African-American community is reflected not only in its mission, but in its makeup.”
Lena Zwarensteyn, director for strategic engagement at the American Constitution Society, said that the participation of Booker and Harris on the committee “is an important step to better representation all of us.”
“Sens. Booker and Harris both deeply understand that communities of color, in particular, are impacted by policies and practices of the Justice Department and by who receives lifetime appointments to serve on the federal bench,” Zwarensteyn said.
Carl Tobias, a professor at University of Richmond School of Law who follows judicial nominations, added that the addition of the two Democrats means there are now 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans on the committee, which signs off on nominees before the full Senate can vote on them.
Therefore only one Republican vote is needed to block a nominee. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, has already pushed back on several Trump judicial nominees.
Tobias said he expects pointed questions from Harris and Booker in future confirmation hearings for nominees.
“Booker and Harris are both very active, astute and articulate senators who will bring expertise and willingness to ask difficult [questions] to SJC,” Tobias said.