Gavel Grab

Report: Obama Gets Good Grades for Diversifying Bench

President Obama is getting good marks for his nominations that have brought greater diversity to the federal bench. There’s also a cost, some observers say.

“It’s a very important priority for the president,” Kathryn Ruemmler, the new White House counsel, told NPR for a report broadcast Thursday. “Having racial diversity, gender diversity, experiential diversity — all of those things we are mindful of and committed to seeking out when we’re looking for the best candidates.”

According to the White House, 97 judicial candidates nominated by Obama have gained confirmation so far, and almost half are women and about one-fourth are black. The president has nominated four openly gay candidates (see Gavel Grab) and brought about a doubling of Asian-American federal judges.

The “firsts” that Obama can take credit for are the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, the first openly gay man to sit on the district court and the first Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese nominees who are female.

“Obama is nominating many more diverse nominees than his predecessors … strikingly so,” said Caroline Fredrickson, head of the American Constitution Society.

“But the nominees are not getting confirmed with the same kind of success,” Fredrickson added. ”For women and minorities, it’s just been a bigger hill to climb before they actually get a vote,” Fredrickson explained. “And so for whatever the reasons, the facts speak for themselves.”

Among those nominees who have had the longest waits are Louis Butler of Wisconsin (see Gavel Grab) and Charles Bernard Day of Maryland, who are black; and Edward DuMont of Washington, who is openly gay.

Not admiring of Obama’s approach to judicial nominations was Edward Whelan, who formerly worked in President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice. “The Obama administration doesn’t have a coherent judicial philosophy so it’s not surprising that it’s falling back on diversity, which I think it sees among other things as appealing to its various political constituencies,” he said.

Meanwhile Marge Baker of People for the American Way, in a statement accusing GOP senators of obstructing judicial nominees, provided some data about the waits that have faced female and minority judicial nominees:

“While President Obama’s white male confirmed nominees have waited an average of 82 days, women and people of color have been forced to wait 100 days, or 22% longer. In fact, the entire confirmation process takes an average of almost a month longer for women and people of color.”

In the Denver Post, an editorial discussed the nomination of R. Brooke Jackson, who was selected for a federal judgeship in in September 2010 and not confirmed until this week. The editorial was headlined, “Partisanship to blame for long delay in judge’s OK.”

In Politico, Andrew Blotky of the Center for American Progress and Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote a commentary entitled, “It’s Senate’s duty to confirm judges.” They wrote, “There aren’t enough judges to hear the cases piling up in federal courtrooms across the country — which for countless Americans means justice significantly delayed and denied.”

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed the following nominees, according to a statement by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.:  Sara L. Darrow to the Central District of Illinois, R. Brooke Jackson to the District of Colorado, Kathleen M. Williams to the Southern District of Florida, and Nelva G. Ramos to the Southern District of Texas.

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