Where Are the Judicial Nominations?

At the Center for American Progress, Ian Millhiser has produced a good memo on President Obama's abysmal confirmation rate for his judicial nominees. In short, compared to the previous five presidents, Obama has had dramatically fewer nominees confirmed to the federal bench:

congressionalnomineesgraphs1.png

Similarly, the Alliance for Justice found that in Obama's first year in office, the Senate confirmed a mere 23 percent of his judicial nominees. By contrast, Presidents Carter and Reagan had 91 percent of their nominees confirmed in their first year. That number dropped to 65 percent for George H.W. Bush, 57 percent for Bill Clinton, and 44 percent for George W. Bush.

As I wrote last month, you can attribute the massive change in confirmation rates to the GOP's strategy of hyper-obstruction through abuse of Senate rules; through routine filibusters and holds, Republican senators have kept dozens of judicial nominees from leaving committee or coming to a vote. And while it's true that Democrats aren't always without a reliable 60 votes for cloture, breaking each filibuster eats away at floor time and keeps the majority from considering its other priorities.

That said, President Obama isn't entirely blameless in this game. Yes, the Senate has confirmed precious few of his nominees, but he's also offered far fewer nominees than his predecessors. In his first year, Obama offered a slim total of 26 judicial nominees: 12 to the U.S. Court of Appeals and 14 to U.S. District Courts. By contrast, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush offered a respective 47 and 65 nominees in their first years. As of today, there are 82 vacancies in U.S. District Courts and 35 pending nominees. Filibusters aside, Obama has yet to offer nominees for 47 court vacancies.

To be honest, I'm completely puzzled by Obama's unwillingness to take judicial nominations seriously -- even with Republican intransigence, the 111th Congress was the best shot he had for getting the nominees he wanted. Obama is making a huge mistake if he thinks that next year is the time to get serious about making judicial nominations. By then, the GOP will be stronger and far less willing to defer to the president's preferences. Judicial confirmations will slow to a trickle, and Obama will deserve a lot of blame for the vacant judiciary.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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