Obama's Judicial Vacancies
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 12:29:03 AM EST
Slate's Doug Kendall passes on some disturbing numbers:
By February 2002, President George W. Bush had nominated 89 judges to the lower federal courts. This week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy prodded President Obama, who has nominated just 42 federal judges to date, to "get up names as quickly as possible." President Obama promised to make this "a priority." He'd better.
There are currently 102 vacancies on the federal bench. Of these, 31 constitute "judicial emergencies"—vacancies that have severely threatened a court's ability to handle its workload. Before the end of the year, there will be dozens of additional openings on the lower courts (20 have already been announced) and, in all likelihood, one and perhaps even two Supreme Court vacancies to fill. With an energized Republican Party, the loss of a filibuster-proof majority, and a scary-looking midterm election in November, Obama faces a difficult task in filling these vacancies this year. But this is it—when is he likely to have a better opportunity?
The numbers on judicial nominations are getting better -- but not at a tremendously fast rate. Back in September I pointed to numbers showing that Barack Obama had nominated more than two-thirds fewer jurists than George W. Bush had at a similar point in his Presidency. By November that deficit had fallen to 60 percent. Today, according to these nubmers from Kendall, President Obama's deficit in judicial nominations relative to George W. Bush -- who, remember, was facing a Senate in opposition Democratic hands by this time in his first term -- is down closer to 50 percent.
But with a real crisis in the judiciary in the form of dozens of vacancies, one has to wonder why this President has nominated fewer than half of the judges nominated by his predecessor.