Why Obama has No Judges

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JONATHAN CHAIT DECEMBER 14, 2010

Why Obama has No Judges

Ryan Grim has some pretty shocking statistics on the GOP's success in blocking President Obama's judicial nominees, along with Obama's complicity in the problem:

As the first congressional session of Obama's presidency draws to a close, what began as a slow process of confirmation has ballooned into a full-blown judicial crisis. The Senate has overseen the slowest pace of judicial staffing in at least a generation, with a paltry 39.8 percent of Obama's judges having been confirmed, according to numbers compiled by Senate Democrats. Of the 103 district and circuit court nominees, only 41 have been confirmed.

By this time in George W. Bush's presidency, the Senate had confirmed 76 percent of his nominees. President Clinton was working at a rate of 89 percent at this point in his tenure.

While the confirmation process is slower now (a function of a packed legislative calendar and Republican obstruction), Obama's nominating pace also lags behind his predecessors. His 103 total nominations compare to 142 by Clinton and 131 by Bush at this same juncture.

Ronald Reagan had twice as many judges confirmed by this time in his presidency, with his 87 confirmations dwarfing Obama's total. George H.W. Bush had moved 70 judges through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Jonathan Bernstein has been banging this drum for a while and has a good summary of the politics. Obstruction has played a major role, but so has the failure of the Democrats to play their hand as well as they could:

All in all, and excepting the two Supreme Court nominations, both the White House and the Democrats in the Senate have simply not placed any kind of priority on filling the bench.  That's encouraged Republicans to use low-cost methods to block those nominations that have been ready for final confirmation, and Republicans, no fools they, have taken full advantage.

It's still probably not too late for some action.  A serious commitment to use every last minute available could probably get at least all—not most, but all—of the non-controversial nominees confirmed.  It's a little hard to tell how much else is possible at this point (a lot depends on whether floor time is needed for other priorities), but as I've said before, leaving anything that could get done on the table would, indeed, be a real betrayal of the Democrats who worked hard to get Barack Obama and the 111th Senate elected. 

The odd passivity toward nominations is one place where the left has an airtight complaint against the Democrats -- they accomplished less than they could have through simple laziness, lack of attention or unwillingness to fight.

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posted in: jonathan chait, barack obama, clinton, george w. bush, ryan grim, republican party, senate

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