Federal appeals court vacancy rates drop despite GOP success in blocking some nominees

The Obama administration naturally likes to point to the drop in unemployment from 10.2 percent in 2009 to 6.1 percent – even though a lot of people have dropped out of the labor market.

There’s still a ways to go to get to what might be called full employment.


(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

But one very small  segment of the workforce is doing a bit better than that: the 179-member U.S. courts of appeal.

On Jan. 1, 2009, just before President Obama took office, there were 13 appellate vacancies, according to University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman, an authority on the federal circuit courts. On Jan. 1, 2013, just as the president was starting his second term, there were 16 appellate vacancies.

There are only eight vacancies now, and one nominee “will almost certainly be confirmed, leaving only 7 vacancies,” Hellan says. So the vacancy rate will have been cut about in half, he notes, down to about 4 percent, with some of the decline attributable to the “nuclear option,” reducing filibusters on most nominees. That’s pretty close to full employment. And it’s the lowest rate since 1990, we’re told.

The vacancies could well have been reduced even further, perhaps down to a couple of seats, but for GOP senators’ success in  blocking potential White House picks in Texas, Pennsylvania and other states before they’re even nominated.

Under a century-old Senate tradition called the “blue slip,” both home state U.S. senators must agree to a judicial nominee before that person can get a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.  Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has been disinclined to change that rule.

“The blue slip,” Leahy told us in a statement, “is just a piece of paper and could be eliminated today, but that would not change the importance of home state senators’ support for confirming judicial nominees to the states they represent.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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