Bakersfield

Senate confirms Bakersfield’s Jennifer Thurston as judge in U.S. Eastern District Court

California’s most overworked Federal district court has a new judge in its ranks.

After being nominated for the position by President Joe Biden in September, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Thurston was confirmed by the Senate as a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of California last Friday.

Thurston’s confirmation comes after a 12-year stint as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District. 

She has also served the Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge for the district since October 2020.

Before her time with the Eastern District, Thurston served as a deputy county counsel for the Office of County Counsel in Bakersfield from 1997 to 2009. 

Thurston graduated from Duke University in 2018, where she received her LL.M. 

She previously received her J.D. from California Pacific School of Law in 1997. 

During her time at Duke, she wrote a thesis titled “Black Robes, White Judges: The Lack of Diversity on the Magistrate Judge Bench.” 

The Senate approved Thurston by a 46-24 vote, with three Republicans and one independent joining 42 Democrats in support. 

California Senator Alex Padilla was one of the Democrats who voted to confirm Thurston, but fellow California Senator Dianne Feinstein did not vote. 

The 24 votes against her confirmation all came from Republicans. 

Thurston’s chambers are based out of the Bakersfield Federal Courthouse.

A court with a caseload crisis

The court itself has become a hotbed of controversy over its caseload.

Currently, the Eastern District is comprised of six seats – the same number it held in 1978. Each of the six district judges are expected to handle about 900 cases at a time.

That figure is more than double the national average for Federal judges, who handle about 425 cases.

During the Obama administration, Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) proposed The Central Valley Judicial Relief Act to double the size of the Eastern District of California bench. The bill failed to garner support from the state’s two Senators at the time, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Beyond its six active seats, the Eastern District has three judges who have taken Senior Status. Judges may take senior status, and vacate their current seat, when they are 65 years old and their age and years of experience in Federal courts are at or above 80 years.

With Thurston’s confirmation, the Eastern District currently has one vacancy through senior status and retirements.

Prior to his retirement, Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill pleaded with the White House and California’s two senators, Feinstein and Kamala Harris, to end the logjam and begin the process of nominating and confirming judges onto the Eastern District bench.

Last April, President Donald Trump nominated Fresno lawyer Dirk Palootzian to the bench. His nomination expired after the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to take up a hearing on it prior to Trump’s exit from office.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.