September 11, 2013

The second of Barack Obama’s three current D.C. Circuit Court nominees had a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today (see good reporting from Jennifer Bendery). The basic story: Republicans claim no personal objection to Robert Wilkins, but Chuck Grassley and other Republicans are still threatening to block all nominees to that court, based on a laughable theory that the slots don’t need to be filled — a theory that suddenly emerged once Obama began nominating people to fill the vacancies, and one that will most certainly dissolve as soon as a Republican is in the White House.

We will soon see whether Republicans back up that theory with unified-party filibusters; if so, Harry Reid and the Democrats will have little choice but to fight back, as they did on executive-branch nominations, by threatening majority-imposed reform.

Meanwhile, as important as these three seats are, the total number of judicial vacancies is creeping up again and nearing 100 — with 50 of those vacancies having no nominee. In part, that’s because of obstruction from Republican senators, who are essentially attempting to overturn the 2012 presidential election. In part, it’s because Obama just doesn’t make the federal bench a priority. Yes, there’s a lot going on for his administration to handle, but that’s no excuse. Presidents must be able to walk and chew gum — and deal with the budget, and with Syria, and implement the Affordable Care Act, and still find time to appoint judges — all at the same time.

There was some good news on executive-branch nominations yesterday, with the White House rolling out a large batch of new selections. So, Mr. President: where are the judges?