Senate Republicans On Track to Confirm Fewest Judges in 46 Years

Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

With the year half over, Republicans in the Senate are on pace to confirm the fewest federal judges since Richard Nixon was in the White House in 1969.


The refusal to confirm judges is just a continuation of the ugly partisan battle between conservatives and President Barack Obama, Politico wrote, while noting that the federal courts have dozens of unfilled vacancies. In fact, more than two dozen federal courts have declared “judicial emergencies” because of excessive caseloads caused by vacancies, Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim reported. The federal judiciary has 63 vacancies. Obama has nominated only 16 people to fill these open positions.


Since the GOP and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took over the Senate in January, not a single circuit court nominee has been approved. The Senate is scheduled to confirm its first one, Sara Stoll, after it resumes work following the Fourth of July break.


“Nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Stoll would become just the fifth judge confirmed to the federal bench so far this year, a pace that falls short of the previous modern low of 12 confirmations in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency,” Politico says. The 2009 figure is an outlier because it takes a while for a new president to begin the nomination process. It was a similar situation in 1969, when only 11 judges were confirmed during Nixon’s first year in office.


In response to the criticism, Republicans point to the fact that Obama has had 311 judges confirmed since taking office. George W. Bush at this same point in his presidency had only 276, they say. However, the Democratic-led Senate confirmed 40 judges in 2007, during Bush’s sixth year in office.


It appears that the real reason for the Republican stalling tactics isn’t to enforce some kind of parity, but instead it’s a mix of two things. First, Republicans are pouting that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) changed the rules to let judges be confirmed by a majority of votes, rather than 60. Reid did this in response to continued Republican filibusters over nominees.


Second, Republicans are hoping they’ll have one of their own making nominations after the 2016 elections. That means, of course, that the nominees won’t come down the pike until about two years from now.


“The more everything gets gummed up, the more vacancies there are going to be at the end of President Obama’s term, and the Republicans are hoping there are going to be a lot of vacancies for a Republican president to fill,” Paul Gordon, of the People for the American Way, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Judge Not: GOP Blocks Dozens Of Obama Court Picks (by Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim, Politico)

Table 2. Number of U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees Confirmed by Calendar Year (Politico) (pdf)

Confirmation of Judges Gets Bogged Down in Congress (by Jonathan Tamari, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Majority of Federal Appeals Court Judges Appointed by Democratic Presidents for First Time in more than 10 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Judge Nominee Finally Gets a Confirmation Hearing after Waiting 2½ Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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