President Obama has moved ahead of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, for nominations made to the federal bench at this point in his presidency, but Obama lags for judges who have been confirmed.
That news from the Alliance for Progress was mentioned in a Washington Post blog that also looked ahead at the difficulty some of Obama’s nominees may face in winning confirmation before the Congress goes home for its December holiday this year.
Obama has submitted 271 judicial nominations compared to 240 for Bush in a corresponding time period. The Senate has confirmed 76 percent of the Democrat’s nominees, putting 203 judges on the bench, compared to 90 percent and 215 judges for his Republican predecessor during a corresponding period.
President Barack Obama, working to bring far greater diversity to the federal bench, has stepped up dramatically his pace for picking judicial nominees. Since January, he has announced three dozen court candidates, the Washington Post reports.
At the same time, Senate Republicans present a significant obstacle. There are some conservatives who say a push to diversify the judiciary further smacks of an affirmative action scheme that is not warranted.
The Post’s lengthy, front-page article included these Obama achievements in pressing for a more diverse group of federal judges:
- Female judges sit on appeals courts for the first time in four states.
- African-American judges sit on appeals courts for the first time in five states, and Hispanic judges in two. Read more
President Barack Obama has stepped up the pace of federal court nominations but still has made fewer in his first three years in office than did President George W. Bush in a corresponding period, according to a Blog of Legal Times post.
The blog reported on Russell Wheeler’s paper, “Judicial Nominations and Confirmations after Three Years — Where Do Things Stand?” The president has made 133 district court and 37 appellate nominations, compared to Bush’s 165 and 49 nominations, respectively.
The Brookings paper presented these trends for Obama’s first three years:
- While the pace of nominations and confirmations rose, district court vacancies have increased. The number of retirements has been atypically high. Read more
The political clock is ticking for confirmation votes this year on a number of President Obama’s judicial nominees.
The Senate, now on recess, has sent back to the White House five of the more contentious nominations including that of federal appeals nominee Goodwin Liu. The nomination of Liu, a Berkeley law professor, may be the most controversial of Obama’s judicial appointments, according to a NPR report.
You can learn more about Liu from Gavel Grab; Republicans have blocked his nomination for months. Assuming the nomination is re-submitted by the White House when the Senate returns in September, its future is quite uncertain. Overall, about 100 federal judgeships are waiting to be filled.
In a separate NPR piece, Ron Elving examines recent national issues of great importance and divisiveness that have simmered over in federal courtrooms, including gay marriage and immigration law, and he suggests that for now, at least, some federal judges have risen into the spotlight from their more typically obscure benches. This may also bear on the partisanship in the Senate on judicial nominations, he says: Read more
Growing resistance by progressive groups and African-American lawmakers to two of President Obama’s nominees for the federal district court in Georgia has become a national news story. A New York Times article about the dust-up suggests it will not be receding any time soon.
Gavel Grab has mentioned the swirling controversy over the nominations of Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs and Atlanta attorney Mark Cohen. “The conflict is the latest twist in a struggle over confirmations,” the Times reports, highlighting both the limited ability of Democrats to push through judicial nominations after changing the Senate rules last year to make it easier to do so; and the ability of minority party senators to block judicial nominations through the Senate’s traditional “blue-slip” process.
Cohen has come under fire for successfully defending a Georgia voter identification law, and Judge Boggs for conservative stances when Read more
Unless Senate Republicans decide to cooperate with Democrats or Senate Democrats change the chamber’s rules again, President Obama and fellow Democrats will be hard put to win confirmation of many judicial nominees in the near term despite an ongoing judicial vacancy crisis, Newsweek reports.
Examining the tactics currently exercised by Republicans to stall or block judicial nominees, the magazine reports that gridlock in the Senate hasn’t lightened much since a rules change initiated by Democrats last fall. While Republicans are taking advantage of a traditional courtesy called the “blue-slip” process to stall judicial nominees, even if the courtesy were eliminated the minority party would have more procedural options to block nominations.
The article notes that Democrats have used obstructionist tactics, too, when they were in the Senate minority. There are 96 judicial vacancies now, compared to 35 at a corresponding point in President George W. Bush’s administration and 60 in President Bill Clinton’s, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Read more
Apparently giving up for now on getting help from Senate Republicans to confirm judicial nominees, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has taken steps to move forward — despite a more time-consuming process — on four district court nominations.
Senate Republicans have declined to give what is called “unanimous consent” to allow quick votes on judicial nominees, according to Huffington Post, so Democratic Sen. Reid filed a cloture motion to march ahead on the four nominations through a more time-consuming process that doesn’t require Republican consent. A cloture motion is a procedure used to cut off protracted debate and advance toward a final up-or-down vote.
The Republican stall was characterized by a Senate GOP leader as payback for the Democrats’ triggering last year a controversial rules change that eliminated filibusters of all judicial nominees except those for the Supreme Court. It was the first time this year that Reid “has taken it into his own hands to move on stalled judicial nominees,” Huffington Post said.
After White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett met this week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss concerns about diversity in nominations to the federal bench (see Gavel Grab), there were differing reactions from lawmakers.
“The CBC continues to applaud the Administration’s record in appointing more African American judges to the bench than any president in U.S. history,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia said. “The meeting afforded us an opportunity for a candid exchange on judicial nominees, including detailing our specific concerns and offering suggestions for working more closely with the CBC to ensure both the nomination and the confirmation of more African American judges.”
Rep. David Scott, a Georgia Democrat who has voiced sharp concerns about the records of two nominees to the federal bench in his state, spoke of disappointment. “This is a terrible mistake, history will record it as such,” he said, according to The Hill. “And it breaks my heart that it’s a black president” who made the nominations. Scott has asked for a chance to testify against several of Obama’s judicial nominees (see Gavel Grab). Read more
White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett was set to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus today to address concerns about diversity in nominations to the federal bench, according to The Hill. The CBC has spoken out in recent weeks about a lack of ethnic diversity in President Obama’s nominations in several southern states (see Gavel Grab). In addition, black lawmakers maintain that the nomination of an African-American judicial candidate in North Carolina is being unduly delayed, and that two nominees in Georgia have spotty records on civil rights issues.
The lawmakers claim that President Obama has ceded too much ground to southern Republican senators in an attempt to choose nominees with a greater chance of being confirmed, and plan to air their concerns in the meeting with Jarrett. “Win or lose, we’d feel better if there’s a fight,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.
The White House outreach comes one day after House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, came out in support of the CBC’s position on nominees. “I certainly share the CBC’s concerns,” Hoyer said, according to Politico and The Hill. The influential Democrat suggested the Senate should reject some of the nominations on grounds cited by the CBC.
The Congressional Black Caucus has written a letter to President Obama about judicial nominations, both commending him in part and voicing criticism in part over a lack of diversity in some regions. Obtained by The Daily Beast, the letter states:
“We recognize your commitment to diversity on the federal judiciary and congratulate you on the recent confirmation of D.C. Circuit Court Judge Robert Wilkins. Judge Wilkins’ nomination is evidence of your desire to correct history’s disregard for the unique qualifications of diverse judicial nominees. However, in a number of jurisdictions, there still remains an inexcusable and unjustifiable lack of racial diversity that must be addressed.”
The letter urges Obama to name African-American judges for two federal district court vacancies in Alabama, noting that only one African American was appointed to the federal bench there (by Obama) in the past 33 years, while 26 judicial appointments were made. ”In light of the controversy over the recent Georgia slate of six nominations, it is our hope that we avoid Read more