It’s obviously a busy news cycle, but this really shouldn’t fall between the cracks: Barack Obama and the Democratic Senate are still at best treading water on judicial nominations. That means more justice delayed (and, as the saying goes, justice denied) for many Americans; it also means that Democrats are steadily wasting an important opportunity to turn electoral victory into policy gains.
Here’s the latest: so far this session, the Senate has confirmed 15 judges. That exactly matches the 15 new vacancies during 2011 so far. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has named 17 new nominees over the same time.
Sound good? Not really. That leaves 96 current openings — including a still-astonishing 50 seats for which Obama hasn’t named anyone.
It appears that the deal Republicans and Dems in the Senate made earlier this year to move non-controversial judicial nominees seems to be holding so far. That accounts for the 15 confirmations, all of them unanimous or virtually unanimous. But nothing seems to be happening on an important middle group: Those who are opposed by a significant number of Senate Republicans but not enough of them to successfully filibuster. In other words, Dems could confirm these nominations. But for some reason they haven’t.
Then there’s another set of vacancies that the President hasn’t even nominated people to fill. The Senate can’t confirm judges who have not been nominated. It remains one of the great puzzles of the Obama Administration: why aren’t they a whole lot more aggressive about using the president’s Article II powers to put his stamp on the courts?
As Sonia Sotomayor notoriously and correctly said, policy is made by appeals court and district court judges on a regular basis. Without nominees in place, Obama is squandering one of the major ways presidents can implement their ideas. Hey reporters: Time to press the administration about where the nominees are.