The AP’s Mark Sherman reports that GOP obstruction in the Senate has allowed Republicans to further entrench their control over the federal bench, even though a Democratic president is now naming judges:
A determined Republican stall campaign in the Senate has sidetracked so many of the men and women nominated by President Barack Obama for judgeships that he has put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago.
The delaying tactics have proved so successful, despite the Democrats’ substantial Senate majority, that fewer than half of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships are vacant. […]
When Bush left office, Republicans had appointed just under 60 percent of all federal judges. Twenty months later, the number has dipped only slightly to a shade under 59 percent, according to statistics compiled by the liberal Alliance for Justice. Because of retirements, the percentage of Republican-nominated district judges actually has gone up.
The data comparing Obama’s confirmation rates to those of recent past presidents is truly grim. In late July, a Center for American Progress issue brief analyzed the percent of each president’s nominees confirmed since Carter. For Obama to see the same percentage of his nominees confirmed as past presidents have seen, the Senate would need to more or less double its pace of confirmations:
Yet, since July, the Senate confirmed only four additional judges, bringing Obama’s confirmation rate up to a lackluster 47%. President George W. Bush, by comparison, had twice as many judges confirmed during the second August of his presidency.
There is still time, however, to reverse this trend. In the final months of 2002, the Senate confirmed 29 of Bush’s judges — 20 of whom were confirmed during lame duck. And these judges were confirmed at such a speedy rate despite the fact that the Senate was controlled by Democrats and Bush is a Republican.
Now it’s time for Obama’s judges to be confirmed at a similarly rapid rate. Allowing the GOP to increase its stranglehold on many federal courts even when a Democrat is in the White House doesn’t just thwart democracy, it has terrible consequences for the American people.
Thanks to a Republican district judge’s decision to kill federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, for example, millions of dollars of potentially lifesaving research could be irretrievably lost, even if that judge’s decision is eventually reversed on appeal. Likewise, if the GOP succeeds in holding judgeships open, only to fill those seats with “tenther” judges the next time a Republican is in the White House, they could stack the courts with judges who think that everything from the Affordable Care Act to Social Security and Medicare is unconstitutional.