Opportunities for Biden to Fill Circuit Court Vacancies

So far in 2024, four federal circuit court judges have announced their intention to take senior status upon the confirmation of their successor, including (most recently) Judge Jane Stranch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The others are Judges Charles Wilson (11th), Ilana Rovner (7th), and James Wynn (4th).

Including Judge Stranch, whose intentions were just reported today, this means there are ten current and pending vacancies on the federal circuit courts of appeals. Four of these seats have pending nominees.

Ten appellate seats to fill in the final year of a presidential term is a tall order, but I suspect Senate Democrats can get it done if they are willing to devote the floor time to it. In the absence of significant legislation, there will be political pressure to move on appellate judges.

Will there be even more vacancies to fill? I doubt it. There are twelve circuit court judges who are eligible for senior status and were appointed by Democratic Presidents, but who have not taken announced their intention to leave active status. Given that this is an election year, if they do not announce soon, it is reasonable to assume they will not be going senior during this presidential term. Even without blue slips for appellate nominees, it can be difficult to get folks through in an election year, particularly if nominees cannot be named before the spring.

For those keeping track, here are the circuit court nominees appointed by Democratic presidents who are eligible to take senior status, but who have not yet taken that step. Also included in this tabulation are the number of current or pending vacancies on each court.

  • First Circuit: (none)—2 current/pending vacancies
  • Second Circuit: (none)
  • Third Circuit: (none)—1 current/pending vacancy
  • Fourth Circuit: Gregory, King—2 current/pending vacancies
  • Fifth Circuit: Graves, Stewart
  • Sixth Circuit: Clay, Moore—2 current pending vacancies
  • Seventh Circuit: (none)—2 current/pending vacancies
  • Eighth Circuit: (none)
  • Ninth Circuit: Gould, Rawlinson, Wardlaw
  • Tenth Circuit: Matheson
  • Eleventh Circuit: (none)—1 current/pending vacancy
  • D.C. Circuit: (none)
  • Federal Circuit: Dyk, Reyna

Also, for the record, there are some two dozen circuit court judges in active service who were appointed by Republican presidents and are currently eligible for senior status.