March 25, 2013

Is Barack Obama finally starting to make judicial appointments a higher priority? If so, it’s about time, with the combination of GOP obstruction and White House apparent indifference potentially dooming many of Obama’s initiatives.

Careful readers of The Post might recall an article three weeks ago, which suggested rapid action by Obama to fill judicial vacancies:

Obama is moving quickly to change the face of the federal judiciary by the end of his second term. … The president has named three dozen judicial candidates since January and is expected to nominate scores more over the next few months, aides said. The push marks a significant departure from the sluggish pace of appointments throughout much of his first term, when both Republicans and some Democrats complained that Obama had not tried hard enough to fill vacancies on federal courts.

Unfortunately, most of those “three dozen” were holdovers, renominated from the president’s first term. There hadn’t been any new judicial nominations since Feb. 7.

And now, three weeks later? Two new nominees, to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. That’s something, but three new vacancies have already opened up in March, with a fourth still to come and three more already anticipated in April. In other words, Obama is still falling behind the break-even point, even if all his nominees were confirmed.

In his second term so far — and we’re two months in — Obama has made all of six new federal judicial nominations. Meanwhile, dozens of vacancies sit open without any nominee. With the defeat by filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, four spots on the key D.C. Circuit appeals court remain open, and Obama now has no nominee for three of them.

Granted, Republican obstruction in the Senate is the largest portion of the story, even in these vacancies. It can’t be easy to find potential judges willing to put their lives on hold for months — maybe for years — with no promise of confirmation at the end of the road, no matter how qualified they are.

Still, Obama deserves plenty of blame. It’s simply the case that nominating judges and fighting for them to be confirmed has not been a high priority for this administration. Indeed, it’s one of the larger mysteries of Obama’s presidency. His relative indifference to executive-branch nominations could perhaps be chalked up to executive inexperience, but surely Obama is fully aware of the importance of the judiciary. And yet, the lack of urgency may be continuing.

Whatever the reason, there’s one thing for sure: The best way to ensure that judges become a real priority for this administration is for Democratic-aligned interest groups and activists to push hard for results.