For Obama, diversity but delays on judicial confirmations

By John Schwartz

New York Times News Service

Published: Saturday, Aug. 6 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

"Never before has the number of vacancies risen so sharply and remained so high for so long during a president's term," wrote the group, which noted that all presidents come into office with a backlog that gets worked down more quickly over time.

Judicial nominations have been a source of escalating conflict since the fight over President Ronald Reagan's attempt to nominate Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. Over the years, fights have included refusals by Senate Republicans to hold hearings on Clinton's nominees and Democratic senators filibustering nominees of Bush.

Now that conflict is just one of many in a continuing battle between Congress and the president that also includes nominations to the executive branch and efforts to pass major legislation.

While Obama was relatively slow to nominate judges earlier in his term, his team has now sped up, the group said. But Congress has been slow to confirm nominees, some of whom "go through committee without any opposition and still spend months and months waiting for a vote on the Senate floor," said Doug Kendall, the group's founder. "That's never happened before, and it's a big part of the reason the judicial vacancy problem has reached crisis proportions."

Ruemmler said, "We would obviously like the pace to improve."

Liberal activists say there is a political agenda involved. "Republicans are using judgeships as political pawns in a partisan game," said Nan Aron, the founder and president of Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group in Washington.

John Ashbrook, a spokesman for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, disagreed with the notion that politics was slowing confirmations, noting that the Senate had confirmed a handful of judges before going into its current recess.

"Senate Republicans didn't object to any of the judicial nominees that the majority proposed this week," he said. "In fact, our members agreed to confirm several judges."

Levey said that while his group and others had mounted resistance to several Obama nominees, including Goodwin Liu, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit who withdrew after a Senate filibuster, there was no overarching campaign to slow the process.

"If there is a plan to delay these noncontroversial nominees, nobody has told me about it," he said. He instead attributed the pace of confirmations to "the general lack of cooperation on all issues" in Congress.

Either way, the effect might be the same, said Aron, whose organization issues regular reports on judicial nominations. She warned that confirmations slow to a trickle during an election year.

"We're looking at the next seven months as the time that the pace of confirmations has to accelerate to have a fully staffed judiciary," she said. "The window is closing soon."



Barack Obama: 46 of 97 confirmed judges; 47 percent

George W. Bush: 73 of 322 confirmed judges; 23 percent

Bill Clinton: 109 of 372 confirmed judges; 29 percent


Obama: 20 of 97; 21 percent

Bush: 23 of 322; 7 percent

Clinton: 61 of 372; 16 percent


Obama: 11 of 97; 11 percent

Bush: 29 of 322; 9 percent

Clinton: 25 of 372; 7 percent


Obama: 7 of 97; 7 percent

Bush: 4 of 322; 1 percent

Clinton: 5 of 372; 1 percent

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