Judge David Tatel, who sits on the powerful DC Circuit US Court of Appeals, announced his plans to resign and gave President Biden two vacancies at the influential court. Mark Wilson / Getty Images hide subtitles
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
President Biden’s musical chairs play a prominent role in the influential District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
On Thursday, Judge David Tatel announced that he was stepping down and giving Biden a second position to fill the DC Circuit. The other position is expected in a few weeks, when Judge Merrick Garland is confirmed as US attorney general.
Court sources tell NPR that after Garland’s approval, Biden is expected to nominate Judge Katanji Brown Jackson to replace him. She has been a federal judge for 8 years and is on President Biden’s short list of potential candidates for President Biden’s Supreme Court if there is a vacancy. She is 50 years old, African American, and was shortlisted by President Obama’s Supreme Court in 2016.
A respected and admired figure on the Circuit Court, Tatel is a moderate liberal who has written some of the court’s key decisions. But in recent years, as the Supreme Court has become more conservative, it has seen some of these decisions overturned by the Supreme Court. The decision he was perhaps most proud of was his opinion of upholding an important provision of the voting rights law. The Supreme Court finally overturned the decision in 2013 by 5 to 4 votes.
Judge Thomas Griffith, a conservative who shared Tatel’s opinion on this case, called him a judge who always “played it straightforward … without partiality or ideology, using the facts and the law”. Tatel was more than a good judge, Griffith said. He is a man of “tremendous kindness” and the essence of what one would expect in a colleague, “whether you agree or not”.
Tatel, 78, was blind for most of his adulthood. He acted flawlessly as a successful lawyer and judge and also enjoyed skiing and mountaineering.
He was appointed to the DC Appeals Court by President Clinton in 1994 to occupy the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg after she was appointed to the Supreme Court.
In a letter to President Biden, Tatel said he would accept senior reduced workload status once his successor is confirmed. His decision to “make room for a new generation of judges” gives Biden an opportunity to instantly shape the DC Circuit, considered the second largest after the influence of the Supreme Court.
An unusually large number of appellate and trial judges across the country, including some appointed by Republican presidents, are expected to take office as senior officials after Donald Trump leaves. And the Biden administration has made plans to rush nominations to fill vacancies quickly, unlike former Presidents Obama and Clinton, who didn’t quickly nominate new federal judges in their first two years in office (Democrats have their Senate majority two years later lost the Clinton administration while holding it for the first six years of Obama’s two terms).
Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee before he became vice president, knows exactly what it takes to approve new judges and what they mean. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, was an important Biden employee on the judicial committee.
Former President Trump, with the support of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, appointed nearly as many federal appeals court judges in one term as the previous two Presidents – Obama and George W. Bush – in their four terms.