Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boggs hearings represent mere hiccup -- Obama judge picks continue confirmation surge

There’s been a lot of frustration among Progressives over Republican senators continuing to block Obama judicial picks in committee thanks to the blue slip method.  The latest manifestation of the frustration comes with the nomination of Michael Boggs, a Republican-backed candidate nominated as part of a deal to fill several slots on federal bench in Georgia (In return for nominating Boggs and two other district appointments, Georgia’s Republican Senators agreed to allow the nomination of Jill Pryor to move forward for the 11th Circuit Court seat and Leigh Martin May for a district judge seat.)

Progressives' frustration is understandable – as a state judge and legislator Boggs has defended voter identification laws, displaying the Confederate flag and opposed gay rights. However, Democrats should also keep their eyes on the forest through the trees: with the elimination of the filibuster for most executive nominations last November, judicial confirmations have drastically increased.
How much?  In 2014, the Senate has confirmed 40 judges thus far – 33 in the district courts and seven in the appellate courts. During the first five years of Obama’s presidency, the previous high number of judges confirmed through the end of May was 24 (in 2011 and 2012).  That translates into an increase of 67 percent in the number of judicial confirmations. Oh – and we’ve still got another week of Senate business to go in May. 

In addition, the vacancy rate is also starting to decline noticeably on the federal bench.  At the beginning of December, just after the Senate eliminated the filibuster, there were 86 vacancies on the district and circuit courts. That number increased on February 1 to 96 openings – likely because GOP obstruction forced Obama to resubmit every nomination, forcing a fresh round of committee hearings. However, by the beginning of March, the number of vacancies was beginning to fall and has continued to decline ever since. By May 20, the number of vacancies had declined to 67, a decrease of 30 percent from its February high (See figure).

Again, this happening doesn’t mean that everything is rosy.  In some states dominated by conservatives, the process is slow (like in Georgia) or seems entirely hopeless, like in Texas (though the Fifth Circuit court will pick up Texan Greg Costa today).  

And would some one give Jennifer Prescod May-Parker of North Carolina a commission already?

However, even in some conservative states there has been progress.  Four nominees from Florida have cleared committee and await final confirmation after months of obstruction from Senator Marco Rubio. More importantly, Arizona has a functioning district court for the first time in several years as six  nominees received confirmation last week – including Rosemary Marquez, who was first nominated in 2011 and blocked by Arizona's senatorial delegation, and Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman to become a federal judge.

The point is that progressives are right to be frustrated by continuing blocking of some nominations,  however, we should keep it in the back of our minds that nominations are flowing much more quickly now than they were a year ago.

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