Underscoring the urgency for voting rights reform, the latest in a series of Black women nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed to the federal court is being hailed as a major win in the fight to protect the integrity of casting ballots and democracy in the U.S.
But it wasn’t easy.
Nancy Abudu made Black history on Thursday after being narrowly confirmed to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The lawyer for the Southern Law Poverty Center has become the first Black woman judge to serve on the powerful court that is based in Atlanta and has jurisdiction over nine highly consequential district courts, including in Georgia and Florida where voter suppression reports have run rampant.
Abudu was confirmed following a U.S. Senate vote that was largely along party lines, with the Democrats’ slim 49-47 majority making the difference. That was true even as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, broke party ranks and voted against Abudu’s confirmation — the first time the so-called centrist senator has voted against any of Biden’s judicial nominees.
Manchin said in a statement that it was the wrong time to confirm “partisan advocates” like Abudu with “Americans’ faith in our courts at historic lows.”
But with the 2024 elections looming, the timing of Abudu’s confirmation to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals couldn’t be any better, voting rights advocates said. Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, specifically cited a case that centered on absentee ballots and voter ID laws in which he said Abudu was the difference-maker.
“Nancy Abudu’s distinguished career has been defined by her unwavering commitment to protecting voting rights for Black and Brown communities,” Hewitt said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “Her work, including her involvement in People First of Alabama v. Merrill, where she successfully challenged an omnibus Alabama voter restriction law, proving it to be a violation of the Voting Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, has exemplified her dedication to championing the principles of equality and justice.”
Hewitt added: “She has not only worked tirelessly for these communities who have given so much for the betterment of our country, but also prepared herself to be a judge that upholds these same principles.”
It’s that type of commitment to upholding the tenets of democracy that voting rights advocates say is immediately necessary.
Abudu’s confirmation was a long time coming.
Biden nominated her to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in late 2021. It would take nearly two years of various stages of Republicans trying to block her nomination before Abudu was confirmed on Thursday. During her confirmation hearing in April 2022, Abudu was sharply questioned by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee because the SPLC lawyer previously described the group as having “white supremacists” among their ranks.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who critics say has long fit that description, lashed out at Abudu over the characterization.
“Political rhetoric is one thing, but when you have extreme leftists falsely claiming white supremacy, it illustrates that you are dealing with radical and partisan zealots,” Cruz charged at the time.
Other apparently resentful Republicans expressed similar sentiments, as well.
It was in that context that Abudu was finally confirmed to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
With Saturday marking the 30th anniversary of the National Voter Registration Act, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) expressed the importance of implementing Biden’s executive order on promoting access to voting that made a number of provisions to ensure all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot.
“An executive order is only as good as its execution,” Janai S. Nelson, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, said in a statement on Friday. “We urge the Biden administration to fully implement a whole-of-government approach to promoting voter registration and access to voting in alignment with President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order calling on federal agencies to do their part in fulfilling the objectives of the NVRA. This includes ensuring full implementation in executive branch agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, all of which serve diverse populations that will benefit from increased access to voter registration.”
In the meantime, the confirmation of Abudu to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals certainly doesn’t hurt.
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