Under President Obama, judicial vacancies—and “judicial emergencies”—have become a common feature of the federal bench. Vacant seats have gone unfilled for years, and as a result, district courts around the country have been unable to operate at full capacity. Liberals are quick to blame Republicans, and for good reason; from the moment Obama entered office, GOP senators were committed to an unprecedented campaign of obstruction. Legislation and nominees were held up for the most trivial of complaints, and sometimes, no reason at all.
But the president bears responsibility as well; neither judicial nor executive branch nominations were ever a priority for his administration, and at this point—reports the Chicago Tribune—Obama is on track to have an incredibly ineffectual presidency when it comes to filling the federal bench:
Barack Obama is close to becoming the first president in at least half a century to finish a full term without making an appointment to a U.S. appeals court, considered second in importance only to the Supreme Court. […]
“It is now getting almost too late for this presidential term, especially in the thick of an election year,” said University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, who has studied nominations and was special counsel to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy during the Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmations.
“That would leave the second most important court in the land without the kind of balance he might have achieved,” Gerhardt added.
What’s more, because of election year tussles, it’s unlikely that a nominee would be confirmed, even if the administration brought one forth. It’s hard to overstate how insanely irresponsible this is; right-leaning federal courts have already jeopardized liberal priorities like universal health care, campaign finance reform, and abortion rights. By neglecting nominations for so long, and allowing the bench to stay fallow, Obama has given a tremendous opportunity to the right-wing.
Should he lose reelection, a Republican president—with, in all likelihood, a Republican Senate—could reshape the federal courts into a revolutionary guard for conservative policy. The Right would then be in a position to roll back civil rights, reproductive rights, the rights of consumers, and the entire basis for federal involvement in the economy.
Put another way, we’re looking at what might become the greatest unforced error of any president in recent history. American life could take a turn back to the Gilded Age, and Barack Obama would deserve a lion’s share of the blame.