According to data from the Federal Judicial Center, the rate of judicial confirmations under President Obama is slower than the rate during any president’s first term since the term begun by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The chart below includes all Article III federal judicial confirmations during a president’s first term. As the purpose of the chart is to compare President Obama’s first term to the same period in prior presidencies, it does not include President Gerald Ford because Ford’s presidency completed what began as President Richard Nixon’s second term. The chart does include the entire four year term that began under Kennedy and ended under President Lyndon Johnson:
Although the chart indicates that more judges were confirmed under President Obama than during the Kennedy/Johnson term and that Obama’s confirmation rate is only slightly lower than President Ronald Reagan’s, these numbers are deceptive. Today the federal bench includes 870 authorized active judgeships, including the nine justices of the Supreme Court. This is more than twice the 407 judgeships authorized under President Kennedy and significantly more than the 757 judgeships authorized at the end of President Reagan’s first term. So the Senate confirmed fewer judges under President Obama despite the fact that Obama had more judgeships to fill.
To be sure, President Obama has not been as aggressive as he should have been in naming new judges and throwing his political support behind his existing nominees. But the single biggest obstacle to judicial confirmations under Obama is the record intransigence shown by Senate Republicans. Nearly one quarter of all attempts to break a filibuster on a presidential nominee during the first 221 years of the American republic involved Senate Republican filibusters of President Obama’s nominees.
It is not too late, however, for the Senate to back away from its lowest judicial confirmation rate since the Johnson Administration. Nineteen judicial nominees await confirmation votes on the Senate floor, most of whom are completely uncontroversial.