Unlike legislation, nominations for the courts go only to the Senate, not the House. Republicans in the Senate threaten to filibuster virtually every nominee. In fact, as of February 2012, 13 nominations were pending that were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee but not brought to the floor because of the threat of filibuster. Five more were approved by the Committee with token opposition, but have also not been brought to the floor. A total of twenty two had passed the Judiciary Committee but were awaiting a floor vote, and another twenty-two nominees were waiting to be voted on by the Judiciary Committee. There were sixty-one vacancies for which no nominations have been submitted.
As a result of this Republican obstruction, the number of vacancies in US Courts doubled in the two years since President Obama took office, and the percentage of Obama’s judicial nominees to be confirmed is the lowest of any presidency in American history.
Even over the last two years, Republicans have generally been reluctant to go on record blocking judicial nominations. So, of all the nominations brought to the floor for a full Senate vote, only one has not been confirmed.
Judicial nominees rarely get confirmed in an election year, so the window for action is closing. It is critical both that the Administration get nominees to the Senate for consideration in this window, and that Senate Democrats and especially Leader Reid push for these nominations to be brought to the floor, take the time to vote for cloture if necessary, and confirm them.
Conservative Presidents in the past made judges a priority, and as a result, the judiciary is skewed far to the right of center. If President Obama leaves office with a plethora of unfilled judgeships, the way will be paved for the next Republican president to stack the courts with extreme-right-wing judges, who will vaporize all the gains we have made under the Obama administration and take us even further back toward a ‘tea party’ vision of America.
We must urge President Obama, Senator Reid, and Democrats in the Senate to make confirming good progressive judges a top priority.