The Washington Post

In the Loop: Obama lags on judicial confirmations


What is that creaking sound? Ah, yes. That’s the window starting to close on folks still hoping to put on those black robes before the Senate takes off for the holidays in December.

The good news is that, if you’re one of the nine nominees — seven for district judgeships, two for appeals courts — who have already reached the Senate floor, you’ve got a decent shot at confirmation before the Senate recess. That’s especially true for the seven who got unanimous votes in committee.

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

An additional 10 nominees have had hearings and are awaiting only a committee vote to get to the full Senate, which should happen by early next month. That’s plenty of time to make it to the floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which usually takes up three or four district judgeships and one appellate judgeship at each hearing, may have time to approve as many as 27 more nominees to go to the full body, for a total of 46.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Controversial nominees, meaning those approved by the committee largely with Democratic support, will have a tough time getting through in the rush to adjourn.

When it comes to getting federal judges confirmed, President Obama is lagging behind predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

And even those with substantial GOP support may have trouble getting pushed through in the Senate’s traditional end-of-the-year wrap-up.

That’s because the wrap-up tradition appears to have fallen victim to the increasingly bitter partisanship on the Hill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) has previously noted that the GOP left 17 noncontroversial judicial wannabes on the floor in 2010 and 18 in 2011. The nasty fights over the shutdown and the debt ceiling aren’t likely to have done much for comity.

Meanwhile, a new report by the liberal Alliance for Justice finds that as of Sept. 25, President Obama, after an extraordinarily slow start, has moved way ahead of George W. Bush on nominations. Obama has made 271 nominations, compared with 240 for Bush II at this point in his presidency.

But only 75 percent of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed, compared with 90 percent for Bush. At this point, Bush had put 215 judges on the bench, while Obama has put on 203.

In the first term, Obama deftly improved on the Democrats’ policy of minimizing their impact on the federal judiciary by appointing the oldest judges ever, going back to the Jimmy Carter administration, the report found. Obama’s confirmed appeals judges are on average nearly four years older than Bush II’s and 4.7 years older than George H.W. Bush’s. (The average age of more recent nominees, however, is significantly lower.)

At this point, Democrats have edged ahead in the number of appointees on the 179-member U.S. courts of appeals, the report found. The percentage of Republican-appointed appeals judges — 61.3 percent when Bush II left office — has dropped to 49.4 percent, the report found. Republicans maintain a thin lead of 50.3 percent of the nation’s 678 federal district judges.

Advice from Godzilla

When last we checked in on career diplomat Bob Blackwill, the former ambassador to India who abruptly resigned his post as the White House’s top official on Iraq policy, was at a D.C. lobbying firm.

That move, in November 2004, came after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice scolded him over an incident in which he was alleged to have verbally abused and physically hurt a female embassy staffer during a visit to Iraq in September.

At the Kuwait airport, Air France told Blackwill, who was rushing to return home, that he was not on the flight manifest. Blackwill allegedly grabbed the embassy aide’s arm. There were conflicting accounts of what happened, but Rice, we were told, wanted to ensure that Blackwill treated his subordinates appropriately. (One official said at the time that the incident and Blackwill’s later departure were unrelated.)

When he was in India, Blackwill was dinged by two State Department inspector general’s reports about his management and the plunging morale among embassy staff members.

Blackwill, widely considered a brilliant guy, was a “prickly, demanding boss,” our colleague Bob Woodward wrote in his book “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III,” and “often referred to himself as Godzilla.”

Well, he seems to be doing quite well these days, judging from an e-mail we got from him Wednesday. He’s now an “international council member” at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

“I am pleased to share with you a paper I recently wrote entitled, ‘Ideal Qualities of a Successful Diplomat,’ ” the e-mail says. “Drawing from my experiences in the United States government at home and abroad, I outline fifteen characteristics that I believe are fundamental for successful diplomats.”

The generally harmless bromides — “write well and quickly . . . be verbally fluent and concise . . . study history” — include an instruction to “prudently speak your opinion to power.” Blackwill adds: “But choose your dissenting moments wisely.” And if you really object to the policy, “don’t whine. Resign.”

Nothing about treating your subordinates well?

With Emily Heil

The blog:
in the loop. Twitter:@intheloop.



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