For all the talk about the fiscal cliff and the economy, what’s really going to make a difference as to whether Barack Obama’s second term is a success are his judicial nominations. If Obama’s accomplishments are really going to last — and if liberal reforms are to succeed over time — doing everything possible to reverse decades of conservative efforts to reshape the judiciary needs to be a top priority.
Democrats need a judicial nominations strategy, and they need it now.
Judicial nominations below the Supreme Court were one of Barack Obama’s biggest first-term failures. Now, with a second term and 54 Democratic Senators (plus Angus King), the Democrats have a chance to correct it.
The first step is simple: it involves putting more resources into nominations. That shouldn’t be all that difficult. It means making sure the White House is focused on naming judicial appointments as rapidly as possible, and that Senate floor time is available when nominees clear the Judiciary Committee.
The second step is to work with Republicans when possible, and to use the clout that Democrats have when needed. Several Republican Senators still are at least moderately averse to voting against cloture on judges. It’s probably worth some administration (and Senate) effort to see if they can get a stable coalition of 60 Senators to assure easy cloture for all district nominees and at least the vast majority of appellate judges. At the same time, some threats might be helpful: perhaps a suggestion that Dems are thinking of lowering the threshold for judicial nomination cloture to, say, 55, might concentrate the minds of Republicans.
The other event Democrats should prepare for now is the possibility that Republicans might roadblock a Supreme Court nomination, voting against cloture for any nominee that Obama might send up. They didn’t do that in his first term, but both of Obama’s nominees were during the 111th Senate, when Democrats were at or very close to 60 by themselves. Looking at voting patterns then and since, it wouldn’t be surprising if many Republicans — perhaps as many as 40 — adopted a roadblock strategy. The time to figure out a response is now.
There are currently some 80 judicial vacancies. Obama and Harry Reid should set for themselves the goal of getting that number down to zero by Election Day 2014. A lot of people worked very hard to put a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in the Senate in large part to secure good judges. The president and Democratic Senators owe it to them to get it done this time.