An actual clue on “Jeopardy” last night, as quoted by Alliance for Justice: “Of these 874 federal government jobs, 85 are vacant, some for over five years.”

The correct question, as you may have guessed, is: What are judges?

So if it’s reached “Jeopardy,” it’s worth taking a look at how bad things are at this point.

The 85 number apparently includes both current and announced future retirements. Of the current openings, there are still 13 at the appeals court level and 59 in district courts (at least about that; some of the sources I’m checking differ for various reasons. It doesn’t matter; it’s too many).

The most obvious obstruction happens when a nominee has been cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is otherwise ready for floor action. Twelve district judge nominees and four circuit court picks are at that stage.

For the others, it’s hard to tell whether the fault lies with Republican obstruction or Democratic indifference. For example, there are currently about 40 vacancies with no nominee at all. That is President Obama’s fault — but presumably one reason he’s been slow to name anyone is that expected Republican resistance makes the job much less attractive. And to the extent that some of these non-nominees are tied up in the politics of various states’ congressional delegations, that may also be, to some extent, about Republican obstruction or lack of presidential effort. It’s hard to tell from outside.

What’s not hard to tell at all is that it’s a terrible situation for the judiciary, for those who have cases that need to be heard, and for Democrats who supported Obama’s election in part to win seats on the federal bench. There’s still time to make a bit of progress before the year is over, but the president sworn in next January – and the Senates he will work with – just have to do better.

(Via Ari Melber)