Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder warned that judicial confirmations have slowed to such a glacial pace that half of all federal judgeships will be vacant by the year 2020 unless the pace accelerates. And Holder is right to be worried. Thanks to widespread right-wing obstructionism in the Senate, President Obama’s judicial nominees are being confirmed at about half the rate of his two predecessors’ nominees:
If anything, this problem appears to be getting worse — and it is getting worse fast. Last night, the Senate recessed until after the election without confirming a single district or circuit judge. That means that only one federal judge, Judge Jane Stranch, was confirmed during the Senate’s entire post-August session. President Bush, by contrast, had nine judges confirmed during the same point in his presidency.
Judicial confirmations have slowed to this near-standstill because conservatives are exploiting a loophole in the Senate Rules which makes it virtually impossible to move more than a fraction of the Senate’s business forward. Unless all 100 senators agree to hold a vote immediately, the Senate must waste up to 30 hours of time before it can vote on a single nominee. Because a new president must fill approximately one thousand Senate-confirmed jobs during the course of their first term, it takes far longer to confirm each of these nominees (at 30 hours a piece) than the Senate is actually in session during two entire presidential terms:
Simply put, there is not enough time to confirm President Obama’s nominees in the face of right-wing obstructionism, so hundreds of federal judgeships could be vacant the next time a conservative president occupies the White House.
The possibility of a right-wing president filling these hundreds of judgeships should terrify anyone familiar with the right’s vision of the law. As the right has increased it’s control over the federal bench, it has used the courts to immunize powerful corporate interest groups from campaign finance law, from laws intended to protect the environment, and from laws intended to protect women and older Americans in the workplace. This corporate capture of the judiciary will only get worse if the right-wing’s confirmation roadblock does not get torn down.