The Senate is failing to solve the judicial backlog problem, a progressive advocacy group said last week, in releasing reports showing that the body is failing to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominees.
Among all presidents, Obama has the lowest percentage of confirmed judicial nominees during his first two years in office, according to the reports from the Alliance for Justice. And only President Jimmy Carter in 1977 had fewer total confirmations.
The Senate confirmed 62 of the 105 Obama’s judicial nominees during the first Congress. Of those confirmed, two were Supreme Court justices, 16 were appellate court judges and 44 were district court judges.
In “The State of the Judiciary – January-May 2011: Judicial Nominations in the 112th Congress,” the Alliance for Justice expressed concerns about the ability of the 112th Congress to significantly address the judicial vacancy backlog.
There currently are 88 vacancies in the federal judiciary, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Of those vacancies, 48 have nominees waiting for confirmation votes in the Senate.
“The Senate has been acting like someone with a huge credit-card balance that only pays the interest each month, never reducing the principal and staying endlessly in debt,” the report says. “Even with a new sense of urgency, if the flow of nominees doesn’t pick up, we will end the year where we started – with a judicial crisis of unprecedented scope.”
The Alliance for Justice noted some bright spots for Obama thus far during this Congress, including the May confirmations of John McConnell for the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island and Edward Chen for the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, who both faced Republican opposition.
But Democrats in May were unable to overcome a Republican filibuster of Goodwin Liu, whom Obama nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu was the first judicial nominee blocked since President George W. Bush’s first term.
Republicans held up his nomination over worries that he would move the 9th Circuit, widely considered the most liberal of the federal circuits, further to the left.
They also expressed concerns about highly critical comments Liu made about Samuel Alito during Alito’s Supreme Court nomination hearing in 2006. Liu later apologized for the remarks.
He now has asked the president to withdraw his nomination.
“Although the White House Counsel has made encouraging statements about the need for urgency, the President must assertively exert personal leadership by both submitting more nominees and by using the full power of his office to push the Senate to confirm them,” the report says. “The obstruction of Goodwin Liu from receiving a final vote, and his subsequent withdrawal from further Senate consideration, brings this into full relief.”