President Biden nominated Washington State Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren to the U.S. District Court in September 2022. If confirmed by the Senate, Bjelkengren would make history as the first Black judge to serve on the Eastern District of Washington. However, partisan politics threaten to derail Bjelkengren’s confirmation to the federal bench.
Background on Charnelle Bjelkengren
Charnelle Bjelkengren was born and raised in Washington. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Mankato State University in 1997 and her Juris Doctor from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2000.
Bjelkengren’s career includes over two decades working in the Washington legal system:
- 2001-2003; 2004-2013: Assistant Attorney General, Washington State Attorney General’s Office
- 2013-2019: Administrative Law Judge, Washington Office of Administrative Hearings
- 2019-present: Superior Court Judge, Washington State Superior Court
Bjelkengren has established herself as a thoughtful and diligent jurist committed to fairness and justice. She is considered an expert on administrative law.
Nomination to the Federal Bench
In September 2022, President Biden nominated Bjelkengren to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
For Bjelkengren, the path to confirmation has been lengthy:
- President Biden first nominated her on September 19, 2022.
- Her nomination expired at the end of the previous Congress on January 3, 2023.
- Biden renominated her on January 23, 2023 to restart the process.
- She had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 25, 2023.
- The committee reported her favorably on May 11, 2023 by an 11-10 vote.
Awaiting Full Senate Vote
As of November 2023, Bjelkengren’s nomination remains pending before the full Senate. Scheduling of a confirmation vote remains uncertain.
The Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington
If confirmed, Bjelkengren would serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
Jurisdiction and Geographic Boundaries
The Eastern District of Washington covers the eastern two-thirds of the state. It has jurisdiction over federal cases arising in 20 counties. The court is based in Spokane with divisions in Yakima and Richland.
Workload and Notable Cases
The Eastern District handles over 1,000 filed cases per year spanning civil, criminal, and appellate matters. Judges manage complex litigation including class actions, mass torts, Native American law, and more.
Vacancy Bjelkengren Would Fill
Bjelkengren was nominated to fill Judge Sal Mendoza Jr.’s seat after his elevation to the Ninth Circuit. She would be the first Black judge to serve on this court.
Challenges and Issues Around Bjelkengren’s Confirmation
Despite her undisputed qualifications, partisan politics threaten to derail Bjelkengren’s confirmation.
Partisan Politics in Judicial Nominations
In recent years, the judicial nomination process has become highly politicized.
Blue Slips and Senate Traditions
One issue is the blue slip policy, which gives home state senators input on nominees. Some argue doing away with blue slips erodes Senate traditions.
Pressure from Activist Groups
Activist groups like Demand Justice are pressuring Democratic senators to confirm progressive picks like Bjelkengren to counter Trump-appointed conservatives.
Qualifications and Judicial Philosophy
Opponents have questioned Bjelkengren’s experience and impartiality.
Supporters point to Bjelkengren’s over 20 years as a state judge and lawyer, calling her exceptionally qualified. The ABA rated her “Well Qualified.”
Evaluations of Her Merits
Critics suggest Bjelkengren lacks substantial federal litigation experience. However, the Eastern District’s Chief Judge found her experience “sufficiently comparable.”
Views on Role of a Judge
Some painted her as an activist judge, citing her public advocacy against overturning Roe v. Wade. Bjelkengren testified she would apply precedent fairly and impartially if confirmed.
Potential Impact if Confirmed
Confirming Bjelkengren could significantly impact the District Court and Washington legal community.
On the District Court
Bjelkengren’s service would directly shape the District Court’s makeup and jurisprudence.
Court Makeup and Dynamics
Bjelkengren would bring valuable diversity of experience and viewpoint to this court as its first Black judge.
Handling of Cases
Given her expertise in administrative law, she may influence how the court approaches complex regulatory disputes.
On the Legal Community
Bjelkengren’s presence could also have a broader influence on Washington’s legal landscape.
Reaction from Lawyers and Judges
Many would welcome Bjelkengren as an esteemed, trailblazing jurist with deep roots in the local community.
As a Black woman, Bjelkengren could inspire and empower young attorneys of color pursuing public service and judicial careers.
The Road Ahead
Uncertainty remains around both Bjelkengren’s confirmation prospects and future trajectory.
Uncertainty Around Confirmation
It is unclear when the Senate might vote on Bjelkengren’s nomination.
Timing of Final Vote
With the Senate’s divided makeup, Majority Leader Schumer will have to weigh his priorities in scheduling the floor vote.
Possibility of New Nomination if Not Confirmed
If Bjelkengren is not confirmed by the adjournment of this Congress, her nomination would expire again and the process would have to start over.
Bjelkengren’s Future Prospects
Regardless of outcome, Bjelkengren has a bright future in the law ahead.
Potential for Higher Court Nomination
If appointed to the District Court, Bjelkengren would be well-positioned for elevation to the appellate courts in future years.
Role as Mentor for Diverse Jurists
Bjelkengren is dedicated to mentoring young lawyers, particularly women and people of color. She would undoubtedly embrace this role as a federal judge.
Charnelle Bjelkengren is an exceptionally qualified and trailblazing judicial nominee. It remains to be seen whether partisan politics will delay her confirmation. Regardless of the outcome, Bjelkengren is poised to continue serving as a leader and role model within Washington’s legal community.
What court was Charnelle Bjelkengren nominated to?
Bjelkengren was nominated by President Biden to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
What is Bjelkengren’s background and experience?
Bjelkengren has over 20 years experience as a judge and lawyer in Washington. She served as a state administrative law judge and superior court judge, along with roles in the Washington Attorney General’s office.
What is the current status of Bjelkengren’s nomination?
The Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported her nomination in May 2023. Her nomination now awaits a final confirmation vote by the full Senate.
How would Bjelkengren’s confirmation impact the Eastern District Court?
As the court’s first Black judge, Bjelkengren would bring valuable diversity. Her expertise in administrative law may also shape the court’s approach to complex regulatory cases.
Why is there uncertainty around Bjelkengren’s confirmation prospects?
Partisan politics have made the judicial confirmation process highly contentious. Issues like blue slips and Bjelkengren’s experience have been debated, delaying the final vote.