White House Senior Counsel Paige Herwig, who has been a driving force behind President Joe Biden’s success in diversifying the nation’s federal courts, will step down.
Herwig is headed for another administration job, HuffPost has learned. She will be moving in the next few weeks.
Herwig has been with the attorney’s office since day one of the Biden presidency, making her the longest-serving team leader there. She is one of the main reasons why Biden’s judicial nominations are among her signature achievements. She has been overseeing the White House’s aggressive strategy to select, nominate and confirm its judges.
The president has confirmed 126 people to lifetime federal judges during his tenure, more than his three predecessors: donald trump (104), Barack Obama (83) and George W. Bush (124)—had confirmed their presidencies at this point.
This includes 93 district court judges, 32 appellate court judges, and one Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
“Paige is a phenomenal attorney, leader and person, who led the nomination team at the Counsel’s Office with the utmost grace and skill,” said former White House counsel Dana Remus, who worked with Herwig for most of her tenure. mandate.
Beyond the sheer numbers, Biden has infused much-needed diversity into the nation’s mostly white, mostly male federal bench. Sixty-six percent of her nominees are women, and 70% of the judges who have been confirmed are women. Sixty-five percent of her nominees are people of color and 64% of the judges who have been confirmed are people of color.
“Paige is the unsung hero of one of the administration’s most critical achievements: appointing a record number of federal judges with record diversity by race and gender and professional experience,” said former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who also worked with Herwig for most of his tenure. “None of this would have happened without Paige’s legal acumen and legislative experience.”
Herwig’s groundwork has also led to a number of historic firsts in terms of who has put Biden on the court. These include the first Muslim American federal judge, the first two openly LGBTQ women to serve as US circuit court judges, an increase in Hispanic and Asian American representation on the courts, and 12 Black women confirmed as judges of circuit courts, more than all of the above. combined presidents.
That comes on top of Biden’s confirmation of a record number of public defenders for circuit court seats, a departure from the more traditional corporate lawyers picked for these jobs.
When the history books are written, Biden will get credit for putting these people into lifetime federal court positions. Democrats can get a footnote for confirming them in the Senate. Herwig probably won’t be mentioned at all. But she’s been leading the behind-the-scenes work of selecting and vetting them all in the first place, and lining up public support for these people so they have (hopefully) a smooth road ahead in the Senate from the moment the president makes official. their nominations.
“Paige is both brilliant and relentless,” said White House chief of staff Jeff Zients.
“From day one of the Biden-Harris transition, Paige crafted an aggressive strategy to confirm the most diverse and impressive judicial nominees in history,” he continued, referring to the vice president. kamala harris.
progressives greeted Biden when he cast Herwig in the role in January 2021, because she is one of them and they know Herwig from his previous jobs.
In addition to serving on the Biden-Harris transition team, Herwig was a senior nominating adviser to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) when she was a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Herwig was also a counselor to former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and a special assistant to Obama, focused on judicial nominations.
Prior to those jobs, Herwig was chief of staff and senior counsel at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy during the Obama administration. She also served as Associate Senior Counsel for Demand Justice, a progressive legal advocacy group.
When Biden unveiled his first and highly anticipated batch of judicial nominations in March 2021, Herwig and his team were the ones who spent months assembling that group. The batch included the largest number of black female circuit court candidates ever filed at one time (three) and a mix of professionally and demographically diverse selections from New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado and New Mexico.
Herwig was also key in pushing Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination through the Senate in 2022. She sat on the Senate balcony during the confirmation vote, and when Jackson made remarks on the South Lawn of the White House a few days later. , she gave a specific greeting to Herwig.
“I am…particularly grateful for the impressive leadership of White House Counsel Dana Remus. From Paige Herwig,” Jackson said to applause. “Where’s Paige?”
Herwig’s departure comes at a crucial time for Biden’s judicial nominations.
The White House has spent the past two years focused primarily on filling court vacancies in states led by Democratic senators, which has made it easier to select and confirm widely supported candidates. But now, with vacancies piling up in states led by Republican senators, it’s not so simple to nominate people everyone can agree on. Some Republican senators may not want to help the White House pick anyone, hoping to wait for a future Republican president who opts for more conservative candidates.
Beyond that, Republicans have taken advantage of a courtesy in the Senate Judiciary Committee to block Biden’s pick for the court. The courtesy, known as the “blue slip rule,” calls for a senator to turn in a blue slip of paper as a show of support to promote a judicial nominee from that senator’s home state. If both senators from a nominee’s home state turn in their blue ballots, they get a hearing. If only one returns a blue ballot, or none do, the nominee does not get a hearing.
Republicans have not been handing out blue ballots for many of Biden’s court races, effectively killing his nominations. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the committee’s chairman, noted at a recent hearing that Democrats had handed out 110 blue ballots during the Trump administration. So far in the Biden administration, Republicans have signed 17.
Some Republicans appear to be reluctant to work with the White House to fill court vacancies in their states. TO recent letter from progressive groups to Durbin indicates that of the 45 current district court vacancies subject to GOP blue ballots, 41 have no nominees in the queue.
It’s up to Durbin to decide whether to keep the blue slip rule in place. progressive groups they’ve been pushing it abandon it so Biden’s court picks can move again, but so far has been steadfast in upholding the tradition. The White House counsel’s office has no control over this, and it is not about pressuring Durbin to drop the blue slip rule. But the logjam certainly puts pressure on the White House to cut deals with Republican senators so that their states’ judicial nominees have their support early on, rather than nominate people Republicans may not like and see how they fare. they stall in committee.
The White House counsel’s office will have to navigate all of these dynamics without Herwig. White House counsel Stuart Delery said his absence will be felt.
“Paige’s deep experience and knowledge of the nominations process has been a driving force behind the president’s storied record and breadth of judicial confirmations,” Delery said in a statement. “Her commitment to ensuring our federal bank contains highly-qualified candidates who reflect the diversity of the country has been an incredible asset to the White House. We will miss her greatly.”