When 41-year-old gay rights lawyer Michelle Friedland was confirmed by the Senate in April to the federal bench in San Francisco, Democrats cheered that a liberal woman would become the youngest federal appeals court judge in the nation.
But when a restrictive Wisconsin voter-identification requirement was allowed to go into effect in September after the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago deadlocked 5 to 5, Democrats winced. The law — later blocked by the Supreme Court — would presumably have been invalidated at the appellate court if President Obama had succeeded in filling a vacancy there now nearly five years old.
With Republicans striving to seize control of the Senate in Tuesday's election, Obama's first six years in office may mark the peak of his influence on the judiciary, including the appointment of two Supreme Court justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Legal experts say it's a record of unprecedented achievements in judicial diversity. Women make up 42% of his confirmed nominees, more than double the average of his five predecessors combined, while African Americans make up 18% and Latinos 6%. Eleven openly gay judges now serve where there was only one.
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