Detroit federal judge to step down, creating one of first vacancies for Biden

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Detroit U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts will step down from her Detroit post and take senior status, opening up an opportunity for President Joe Biden to make one of his first federal court appointments. 

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts

The 69-year-old appointee of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, said Wednesday her move to senior status will take effect Feb. 24. She was appointed to Michigan's Eastern District in 1998.

Roberts will handle a reduced caseload while her position is filled by Biden's appointee, according to a statement from the Eastern District Court of Michigan that was released a little more than 90 minutes after Biden, a Democrat, took the oath of office and became president. 

"It has been my honor to serve," Roberts said in her Wednesday letter to Biden. "With respect, I congratulate you on your election as the 46th President of the United States, and Kamala Harris on her election as Vice President."

There are 20 district judges in the Eastern District. Six were appointed by Republican presidents, and 14 were selected by Democratic presidents. 

Michigan Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, who will recommend a replacement for Roberts, said Wednesday that they were accepting applications for nominations of federal judges, U.S. attorneys or U.S. marshals in the Eastern and Western districts of Michigan. 

Home state senators typically recommend judicial nominees to the president and, after nomination, they would also have to agree to consideration before committee hearings to consider and vote on the nomination are held. The home state consideration is referred to as the "blue slip" process. 

Candidates can send their applications to 

“Federal judges, U.S. attorneys and marshals make decisions that directly impact the people of Michigan as they work to administer justice fairly and compassionately, and I encourage qualified applicants who are interested in public service to apply," Peters said in a joint statement with Stabenow.

While it's common for Democratic-appointed judges to step down during a change in administration, Roberts appears to be the first to do so in the United States, said Carl Tobias, professor of law at University of Richmond School of Law. 

"I think its pretty natural to expect a number of appointees of Democratic presidents might be hesitant to step down" during the Trump administration, Tobias said. 

"I expect there is going to be a fair number," he said.

As Biden takes office, there are 44 U.S. district judge vacancies across the country — including Roberts' pending move to senior status — and two appellate judge openings, Tobias said.  

Biden's administration reached out to senators in recent weeks asking them to prepare a list of candidates for nomination to federal positions, giving special consideration to diverse candidates in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and legal experience, he said. 

"Those names will go forward probably in a letter and the White House would eventually choose one, consulting closely with the senators," he said.