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The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to appoint Bergen County administrator Julien X. Neals to a federal judgeship on June 8. NorthJersey.com

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The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to appoint Bergen County administrator Julien X. Neals to a federal judgeship on Tuesday, marking the end of Neals' six-year odyssey to the bench that began under former President Barack Obama.

With the 66-33 vote, Neals became President Joe Biden's first successful appointment to the federal bench, which the president will likely look to remake after four years of Trump appointees. Neals, 56, will now sit on the U.S. District Court of New Jersey.

In a March statement, Biden called his group of 10 nominees, which included Neals, a trailblazing slate that drew from the best and brightest in America's legal profession. 

"Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people,” Biden said. “Together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.”

First nominated by Obama in early 2015, Neals languished in political purgatory for nearly two years as then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell continually blocked confirmation of Obama's nominees. Neals waited a potentially record-setting 674 days before his initial nomination died Jan. 3, 2017. 

In the interim, Neals also worked as Bergen County counsel, a position he has held since January 2015. He took over as acting county administrator in June 2016. 

During his time with Bergen County, Neals was widely regarded as a straight-shooter who remained above the county's fraught political fray. 

Before that, he served in various positions in the Newark city government from 2006 to 2014, including business administrator, corporation counsel and chief judge of the municipal court, according to a statement from the White House.

A Newark native, Neals received his juris doctor from Emory University School of Law in 1991 and his bachelor's from Morehouse College in 1986, the White House said. He started his legal career as a clerk for Judge Seymour Margulies on the New Jersey Superior Court, then practiced privately for about 15 years.

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Sen. Cory Booker has been a staunch supporter of Neals, who in 2006 joined Booker’s mayoral administration in Newark. The senator has praised Neals in the past as an “incredible talent” and called him one of the “most impressive people” he had met in his professional life.

The American Bar Association unanimously rated Neals as "well-qualified" for the federal bench in a report last month. 

Neals did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

There are 94 district or trial courts throughout the country, according to the federal courts’ website.

New Jersey has five remaining vacancies on its federal court. Biden has nominated Zahid Quraishi to fill one of those posts. Should the Senate confirm him, he would become the nation’s first Muslim federal district judge.

Neals, in his new role, will be responsible for supervising the pretrial process, conducting trials and sentencing convicted defendants in cases to which the United States is a party. 

This could involve Constitutional violations, crimes on federal land or bankruptcy cases, among other things.

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In a Monday speech on the Senate floor, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez called Neals an "outstanding nominee" who had practiced law in his home state for three decades. 

"Every step of the way, he has impressed those around him with his integrity, sound judgment and commitment to equal justice and fair administration of the law,” Menendez said. 

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said in a statement that there was "no person more deserving of this honor."

"Everyone who has had the opportunity to work with Julien knows he is a gentleman of great character, capability, and integrity, and he will serve the federal bench with fairness and distinction," Tedesco said. "While bittersweet, Bergen County’s loss is truly our nation’s gain."

Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news about those who safeguard your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: janoski@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @stevejanoski 

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