A White House infographic on judicial nominations was getting some buzz on Twitter this morning, so I’ll use that as an excuse to take a look at where things sit on that front while the Senate is out of town.
On the one hand: It’s certainly worth noting that, once again, elections really do make a difference. Democrats in general, and Barack Obama in particular, simply promote a far more diverse group of Americans to the bench. Particularly impressive is that 47 percent of Obama’s confirmed judges are women, about double the rate of George W. Bush (23 percent) and Bill Clinton (29 percent). Of course, part of that is the gradual evening out of the pool as more women graduate law school and have the kinds of legal careers that lead to a judicial appointment, but it’s not as if there were a sudden spike in available women right around January 2009.
The other key point is that for all the legitimate complaining about GOP obstruction in the Senate — and there are still 32 nominees pending there — it’s still the case that Obama has hurt his own cause by being too slow to nominate judges and not particularly aggressive in pushing for confirmation. There are still more than 40 judicial vacancies without a nominee. Now, some of this may be because it’s nearing the end of Obama’s term, and there’s no point nominating someone whom the Senate won’t consider; after all, these are real people whose lives enter a professional limbo while they wait, and no one wants to go through the tortures of that particular purgatory without a reasonable chance of winding up on the bench. But the general number of vacancies without a nominee has held steady near 50 for most of Obama’s presidency, and that’s just too high.
The White House infographic details the economic costs of empty seats on the federal bench, and it hints at the personal costs for those who have justice delayed. It doesn’t include the political costs to Obama’s supporters, as he fails to stock court after court with those who he and the Democratic Party believe would be sympathetic to their concerns. Along with inattention to executive branch nominations, this lack of urgency in judicial nominations continues to be the biggest mistake Obama has made in his presidency, and it’s the first and easiest thing to improve should he be reelected.