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Blocking of Obama Judicial Picks Causing Crisis

Date: Thursday, December 16, 2010, 5:29 am – By: Jackie Jones,

Deliberate obstructionism by the GOP has created a crisis level in judicial staffing, according to a judicial advocacy organization.

“The rate at which President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees have been confirmed is significantly lower than it was for the five previous presidents, both in aggregate numbers (41 judges) and in the percentage confirmed (43 percent of nominations),” according to the Alliance for Justice.

The alliance is a national association of more than 100 organizations working  for judicial access and fairness for a broad constituency of environmental, consumer, civil and women’s rights, children’s, senior citizens’ and other groups.

The group has released reports on the alleged obstruction of Obama’s nominees and the status of the of the nominees during the first 20 months of the administration.

Liberal supporters of the president have criticized his first year in office for not pushing enough judicial appointments, especially compared to President George W. Bush, who forced Democratic senators into working out a deal on his judicial appointments after he threw down the gauntlet and demanded that his appointees be voted upon – up or down – in a block vote.

By the close of Bush’s second year in office, the Senate had confirmed 76 percent of Bush’s nominees and 89 percent of President Clinton’s before him.

However, one bright spot is that Obama’s appointees reflect greater diversity than either of his immediate predecessors.

According to the alliance, 44 percent of Obama’s appellate and district court nominees were female and 43 percent were minorities, compared to 22 percent women and less than 18 percent minority for Bush and 29 and 25 percent, respectively, for Clinton.

The Republican stand-off started almost immediately with just three of Obama’s 23 nominations in his first nine months of office winning approval.

“Wherever the fault lies, the backlog is a serious problem. The Judicial Conference, the policymaking body of the federal court system, ranks 50 of the vacancies as ‘emergencies,’” reports The Economist magazine. “These include district judgeships with 600 or more cases filed and moving nowhere, or 700 or more filings for a circuit panel.”

Many critics, on both sides of the aisle, have accused the Obama administration of doing little to move the president’s agenda forward. The argument could be made, however, that aside from the judicial appointee issue, much has been accomplished for which the administration has been given little credit, including the $787 billion stimulus package, landmark health care legislation, credit card consumer protection and, most recently, legislation finally approving funds for black and Native American farmers in the settlement of discrimination cases.

In August, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told The New York Times that as much as the GOP was blamed for blocking the Democratic agenda, his party was not nearly as successful as he would have liked.

“I am amused with their comments about obstructionism,” McConnell told The Times. “I wish we had been able to obstruct more. They were able to get the health care bill through. They were able to get the stimulus through. They were able to get the financial reform through. These were all major pieces of legislation, and if I would have had enough votes to stop them, I would have.”

And since the November elections, McConnell has said if the Republican Party wants to succeed in enacting its agenda in reducing and limiting the size and reach of government, it must work to deny Obama a second term.

The judicial crisis is one place where the strategy seems to have worked.

According to The Economist, presidents tend to defer to senators on nominees to district courts, while often making their own choices for the appeals courts.  But senators have a veto, of sorts, over both, sometimes resulting in protracted negotiations between the senators and the White House. Obama has not engaged individual senators about a number of nominees because of other issues, including the nomination of two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That’s allowed Republicans to put individual “holds” on nominees, preventing a vote on the floor of the Senate. During Obama’s presidency, this has happened not just to nominees whom conservative Republicans have deemed too liberal, but also to some who had not even one negative vote from the judiciary committee, which votes out the nominees for a floor vote.

“There is no excuse for not using the remainder of this congressional term to vote on President Obama’s nominees to the federal bench. The Senate’s constitutional obligation to fully staff the courts does not stop just because the calendar is crowded and time is short,” Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said in a statement.

Aron pointed out that a lame-duck session pushed through a number of President Bush’s nominees after the 2002 midterm elections.

“The ability of our courts to deliver justice to the American people is at stake,” she said, “and there is no time to waste.”

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