We Need More Federal Judges with Experience Defending Our Democracy

After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2013, lawmakers in North Carolina moved swiftly to pass a monster anti-voter law. When a federal appellate court struck that law down two years later, the judges wrote that it was enacted to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” in violation of Section 2 of the VRA and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

A number of lawyers worked on the legal team defending North Carolina’s restrictive voting law, including Thomas Farr, Kyle Duncan, and Stephen Schwartz. When President Trump had the opportunity, he nominated these three white men to serve in lifetime seats on the federal bench — part of his systematic effort to weaponize our courts to attack the freedom to vote.

Today, as the former president’s ‘big lie’ fuels dozens of anti-voter laws in states across the country, and as we prepare for a Supreme Court term that could further damage the VRA and our democracy, it is urgently important for President Biden to continue to nominate — and for the Senate to confirm — more federal judges who have vital experience protecting our freedom to vote and safeguarding our democracy.

Last year, the Senate confirmed voting rights expert Myrna Pérez to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Pérez, who for 15 years worked to defend the freedom to vote and protect our democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice, is exactly the kind of diverse and eminently qualified judicial nominee — one who is committed to civil rights and our democracy — who we need serving on our courts.

The threat to our country and our democracy is real, and we need judges who will deliver equal justice for all. Here are five of President Biden’s currently pending nominees to the federal bench who have the vital experience we need:

Nancy Abudu, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Nancy Abudu has significant experience in protecting the fundamental freedom to vote. She joined the Southern Poverty Law Center to help establish its Voting Rights Practice Group after having spent years litigating on behalf of clients seeking equal access to the ballot box with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project and the ACLU of Florida. Abudu’s extensive legal experience includes work on several cases to protect the right to vote for many marginalized communities. For example, she helped restore the right to vote for people who have completed their felony sentences, challenged an unconstitutional poll tax that targeted people without wealth, and advocated for the voting rights of a pre-trial detainee. Abudu has also worked in many other areas of voting rights, including — but not limited to — challenging a discriminatory voter ID law, an unconstitutional gerrymander, a state ban on curbside voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other barriers that infringed on the rights of voters with disabilities.

Natasha Merle, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

During her time at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Natasha Merle has led critical civil rights lawsuits on many important issues — including the freedom to vote. For example, after Alabama banned the use of curbside voting during the 2020 election amid the pandemic, Merle served as co-lead counsel in a challenge to the ban. The district court declared the law in violation of both the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, though ultimately the Supreme Court allowed the ban to go into effect. Still, Merle and her team’s efforts led to Alabama allowing “no-excuse absentee voting,” which allowed thousands of voters to cast their ballots by mail. She also challenged a restrictive voter ID law in Alabama, which limited voting only to those who possessed specific forms of identification — which voters of color were less likely to have — or a waiver from the Alabama Enforcement Agency (ALEA). The case was brought after the state closed a significant number of ALEA offices in eight of the 11 predominantly Black counties, severely restricting the number of voters able to cast a ballot. Although the case was dismissed, the litigation led to state reform efforts that made it easier to acquire the identification necessary to access the ballot box.

Dale Ho, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, has vast experience defending the freedom to vote. Ho has been involved in several of the most crucial voting rights cases of the modern era, including Shelby County v. Holder and North Carolina State Conference of NAACP v. McCrory. In the landmark Shelby County case, Ho was a part of the team arguing the constitutionality of provisions in the Voting Rights Act that had been enacted to safeguard the right to vote in states with a history of voter disenfranchisement. In North Carolina State Conference of NAACP v. McCrory, Ho served as co-counsel successfully challenging the aforementioned North Carolina anti-voter law — the same one that three of Trump’s judicial nominees defended. Ho has also argued against some of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country, including successfully challenging a Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit called this law a “mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” Ho has shown an even-handed commitment to defending the freedom to vote for all people, working to enfranchise all voters regardless of political affiliation. 

Roopali Desai, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Roopali Desai has extensive civil rights experience and has particularly distinguished herself in the field of election law. She leads Coppersmith Brockelman’s elections, political, and public law group, where she has been an integral part of the litigation team that challenged the onslaught of baseless election fraud allegations that were brought after the 2020 presidential election. She successfully represented the Arizona secretary of state in a case alleging election misconduct and seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, a claim that the federal court said was without merit. 

Rachel Bloomekatz, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Finally, Sixth Circuit nominee Rachel Bloomekatz also has an impressive background protecting the rights of all people, including defending the freedom to vote and access to the ballot box. For example, in 2016, she successfully challenged the Ohio Secretary of State’s unlawful instruction given to election officials, which stated that people who would turn 18 years old before the general election could not vote in the primary elections.

As the January 6 Committee hearings have made clear, the attack on our Capitol was an attempt to overturn the free and fair 2020 presidential election and served as a reminder of the fragility of our democracy. An important way that lawmakers can respond to the insurrection, and to ongoing anti-voter efforts in states across the country, is by taking action to protect our freedom to vote, including confirming federal judges — like Abudu, Merle, Ho, Desai, and Bloomekatz — who have vital experience protecting democracy. And President Biden can do his part by continuing to nominate highly qualified and diverse lawyers who’ve done this important work.

The time to act is now. The administration and Senate must meet this moment, appoint more voting rights and election lawyers to the federal judiciary, and continue working to save our democracy.