Judicial Confirmations Lag Under Obama Administration

BlogHer Original Post

Last week, Jacquelyn Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American judge to be confirmed by the US Senate for the Federal judiciary. That's a salutatory achievement to be sure, but it was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Nguyen is only the 11th of Pres. Obama's judicial nominees to win Senate confirmation.

In fact, Pres. Obama is poised to have the lowest number of confirmed judicial appointments of any new president in recent memory, as the first chart below indicates. Democrats blame Republican Senators for needlessly delaying the process. Republicans deny that charge and say the Obama administration hasn't submitted enough nominations, and besides, the Democrats blocked a number of conservative judicial nominees during the Bush administration.

Either way, it means that dozens of judicial vacancies are going unfilled. According to a chart on the Federal Courts website, there are currently 19 vacancies on the US Court of Appeals and 77 vacancies at the District Court level. Of these, nine nominees are pending at the Appeals Court level and six District Court nominees are awaiting confirmation.

On top of everything else, the confirmation process is taking an inordinately long time. For example, Judge Nguyen was hardly a controversial nominee. She was ultimately confirmed on a vote of 97-0. Despite that, it took 123 days for her nomination to move through the confirmation process, according to a tally compiled by the Jaded JD.

 

Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor Confirmation Hearing in Washington

Of course, Nguyen's process was speedy compared to the 247-day slog that resulted in the confirmation of Judge David Hamilton for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite the fact that Hamilton had the enthusiastic endorsement of his home state senators, Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar, as well as a "unanimously well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions vociferously objected to his confirmation. Sessions  unsuccessfully tried to filibuster. In a letter posted to his website, Sessions accused Hamilton of using his prior position as a district court judge "to drive a political agenda." Sessions and other Republican detractors had blocked a vote on Hamilton's nomination for several months, according to a Nov. 18 story in the Chicago Tribune.

Sessions' Revenge?

However, some observers think Sessions' behavior may have a more personal motivation.

In 1986, Sessions was nominated for a Federal judgeship by Pres. Reagan, but he was rejected after witnesses at his confirmation hearings disclosed statements he had made that seemed racist, including comments supportive of the Ku Klux Klan. He had also pursued a voter fraud case against three civil rights workers that some viewed as an attempt at voter intimidation. Sarah Wildman recalled the controversy in a May, 2009 article for the Guardian:

"The reasons for his rejection, as I explained in this 2002 New Republic story had to do with a soupy mix of dubious and arguably racist moves, comments and motivations on the part of the Alabama native that led senator Ted Kennedy to announce it was 'inconceivable … that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a US attorney, let alone a United States federal judge.'"

Breaking the Logjam

Ironically, back in March, the Obama administration had touted Hamilton as a moderate jurist with bipartisan support. In the Chicago Tribune story referenced above, Douglass Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center said of Hamilton, ""In any normal world, he should be confirmed easily and unanimously." After Hamilton's confirmation, Rebecca Lehrman and the Blog for our Future protested, "The protracted pace of judicial confirmations is outrageous."

DC Dicta points to a Nov. Roll Call report that the Obama administration is asking Senate Democrats for help in finding judicial nominees who might attract bipartisan support. But don't expect the pace of judicial confirmations to pick up anytime soon. Last month, a Republican strategist reportedly told CNN that what Republicans are doing is par for the course:

"Senate Democrats did it too when they were in the minority," he told CNN. It's "just a tool that the minority uses to get more of what they want because they don't control the agenda and it's very hard to be heard."

However, Kendall noted on his blog that the comparison to the Bush administration doesn't really hold up:

it is still the case that more than 40 percent (131 of 322) of all Bush’s confirmed nominees were passed by voice vote without any floor time wasted: something that has not happened yet for any Obama judicial nominee. And in many cases when Senate Democrats demanded a roll call vote during the Bush Administration, Senator Reid scheduled this vote very quickly: 10 Bush nominees got roll call votes on the Senate floor within a week of being voted on in Committee.

Let's hope Senate leaders recognize that no purpose is served by getting bogged down by the political maneuvering. That's not likely to happen without pressure from constituents. If you had a chance to talk to the Senate leadership about this issue, what would you tell them?

Snapshot of Judicial Nominees in New Presidencies

 

Party Control in Senate

First Circuit and District Court Nominations Made

Circuit and District Court Nominees Confirmed by December 1

Circuit and District Court Nominees Confirmed

1st Year

Circuit and District Court Nominees Confirmed

1st Congress

Barack Obama

D

3/17/2009*

10 

(3 Cir/ 7 Dist)

--

--

George W. Bush

R/D**

5/9/2001

18 

(5 Cir/ 13 Dist)

28

100

Bill Clinton

D

8/6/1993***

27  

(3 Cir/ 24 Dist)

27

126

George H.W. Bush

D

2/28/1989

15 

(5 Cir/ 10 Dist)

25

73

Ronald Reagan

R

7/1/1981****

30  

(6 Cir/ 24 Dist)

42

88

 

* Designation of Sonia Sotomayor as nominee to the Supreme Court was May 26, 2009

**New organizing resolution adopted June 29, 2001 after Jeffords party switch gave Democrats a majority

*** Designation of Ruth Bader Ginsberg as nominee to the Supreme Court was June 14, 1993

**** Designation of Sandra Day O’Connor as nominee to the Supreme Court was July 7, 1981

 

 

JUDICIAL NOMINEES PENDING ON SENATE FLOOR

Nominee 

Position 

Date of Nomination 

Hearing Date 

Reported 

Committee Vote 

Beverly Baldwin Martin 

11th Circuit (GA)

6-19-09

7-29-09

9-10-09

Voice Vote

Joseph A. Greenaway 

3rd Circuit (NJ)

6-19-09

9-9-09

10-1-09

Unanimous Consent

Edward Milton Chen 

ND CA

8-6-09

9-23-09

10-15-09

12-7

Dolly Gee 

CD CA

8-6-09

9-23-09

10-15-09

Voice Vote

Richard Seeborg 

ND CA

8-6-09

9-23-09

10-15-09

Voice Vote

Barbara Milano Keenan 

4th Circuit (VA)

9-14-09

10-7-09

10-29-09

Unanimous Consent

Jane Branstetter Stranch 

6th Circuit (TN)

8-6-09

10-21-09

11-19-09

15-4

Source: Senate Judiciary Committee

 

Kim
BlogHer Contributing Editor|KimPearson.net|

Comments

In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.