Last night, I had the thrill of watching the U.S. Senate confirm Myrna Pérez, the director of our Voting Rights and Elections Program, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. I won’t lie — I had goosebumps.
For 15 years at the Brennan Center, Pérez fought passionately for voting rights. During that time, a fierce litigator, she won protections for the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens. She also documented misguided policies, such as flawed voter purges and harsh voter ID, that make it harder for too many to vote, particularly voters of color. She and her team were deeply involved in the drive to enact automatic voter registration, a breakthrough innovative reform now in place in seventeen states and the District of Columbia.
Her confirmation to the bench is a big deal.
It helps blaze a path for other nominees who come from civil rights, voting rights, or public defender careers. In state and federal courts, there is a lack of professional diversity on the bench, with former prosecutors overrepresented. Pérez, for example, will be the first prominent voting rights attorney on a federal appeals court since civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall. Of course, her joining the court enhances other forms of diversity as well: she will be the first Latina on the Second Circuit since Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2009.
In fact, the focus on strengthening the judiciary — on expanding the notion of who should sit on these senior courts, and indeed on the centrality of the judiciary, is a new and very welcome development.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer played a central, indispensable role in this nomination. We cannot thank him enough for recommending her for a federal judgeship, for his tireless work fighting for her nomination, and his compelling words at Perez’s hearing and on the Senate floor yesterday. It reflects a breakthrough in judicial diversity.
And it is noteworthy, too, and very encouraging that the Biden White House has given these nominations the priority they deserve. Past Democratic presidents — including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — devoted less capital to judicial nominations, especially at first. Now President Joe Biden looks likely to have a significant impact on creating a judiciary that is diverse, excellent, and committed to justice.
During her time at the Brennan Center, Pérez protected and expanded democratic rights for millions of our fellow citizens. Now as federal appeals court judge, she will solemnly serve and uphold the Constitution and equal justice under the law in the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.
As citizens, we’ll be fortunate to have her service on the Second Circuit. And for the Brennan Center as an organization, we regard this as a reminder of the importance of our work on behalf of democracy and the Constitution — and our commitment to carrying on Pérez’s work and her commitment to rigor and excellence.
For more on Myrna Pérez and her pathbreaking work at the Brennan Center, click here.