Both U.S. Senators from New Jersey, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, are likely to ask Joe Biden to nominate Neals to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge after the inaugural later this month, according to sources with knowledge of the judicial selection process who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Menendez and Booker will make their judicial recommendations in consultation with each other. The early stages of the interview process are underway, but no names have been formally submitted to the Biden transition team, sources told the NJ Globe.
After two Republican incumbents lost in last week’s Georgia runoff election, Democrats will control the U.S. Senate once Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President on January 20.
With a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Booker is well-positioned to help shepherd New Jersey federal judicial nominees through the confirmation process.
President Barack Obama nominated Neals in February 2015, to replace retiring Judge Faith Hochberg. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Neals in September, but McConnell never allowed the full Senate to vote on his confirmation.
Neals’ nomination sat idle for 677 days before the 114th Congress adjourned. Donald Trump’s election in 2016 ended Neals as a judicial candidate.
Prior to his nomination to serve as a federal judge, Neals held top posts in Newark while Booker was mayor. He was the chief municipal court judge, he city’s corporation counsel, and Newark business administrator.
When Neals’ nomination was heard by the Judiciary Committee, Menendez and Booker introduced him and advocated for his confirmation.
Neals, 56, is currently serving as the Bergen County Counsel and acting county administrator. He’s been in Bergen for the last five years.
Trump made no district court nominations during his four-year term, largely because Menendez and Booker would have used “blue slips” – a non-binding process senators sometimes use to torpedo the picks.
As a result, more than one-third of the federal judgeships in New Jersey are currently vacant, giving Menendez and Booker an ability to add six new U.S. District Court Judges this year and bring the total up to a full complement of seventeen.
Of the eleven current District Court judges, seven were named by Obama and four by George W. Bush.
A majority of the six sitting judges – six – are women. Two of the eleven are Black and two are Latino.
Eight other New Jersey federal judges are on senior status.
The NJ Globe reported on Friday that seven current and former prosecutors have emerged as serious candidates to become the next U.S. Attorney from New Jersey: Henry Klingeman, Jenny Kramer, Phil Sellinger, Jamel Semper, Ricardo Solano, Jr., Esther Suarez and Lee Vartan.
It’s possible that some of the same names will find their way onto a short list for the six open district court judgeships.
In his one term as president, Trump nominated three U.S. Supreme Court Justices, 54 judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and 174 U.S. District Court Judges.
One of the appellate court judges was from New Jersey.
Paul Matey, a former deputy counsel to Gov. Chris Christie, received a Senate confirmation vote after a 336-day wait despite opposition from Menendez and Booker. McConnell called for a cloture vote that passed 50-44, and Matey was confirmed by the Senate, 54-45, one day later.