Thursday, March 17, 2016

Don't forget about Obama's other stalled federal court nominees

Much of the coverage of the federal courts over the last several weeks has rightly focused President Obama's nomination of D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and the complete refusal of Republican Senators to even pretend to consider him.

But we can't forget about the other court vacancies that exist. As of last month, there are 62 district court vacancies and nine vacancies on the Courts of Appeals.
Sen. Majority leader Mitch McConnell speaks about 
President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland 
to the Supreme Court.

Obama currently has nominees waiting for 34 of those district court slots and seven of the Circuit Courts.

But Sen. Majority leader and Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans will likely drag those nominees out.  In 2015, the Senate confirmed one circuit judge and 10 district court judges. 

In 2007, under an incoming Democratic Senate, George W. Bush was able to get six circuit court justices and 34 district judges appointed.

And during 2014 the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 12 circuit court judges and 76 district nominees.

(Gee, holding the Senate in the 2014 elections would have been nice, wouldn't it?)

So far this year they have managed to confirm one circuit judge and four district judges -- all of whom were ready for votes last November.

Now with the Garland nomination taking up a lot of bandwidth, it's possible the McConnell and Judiciary Chuck Grassley can use it to claim that they don't have time to process any lower-level judges.

Progressive activists can't let that happen. We should highlight the near total blockade ongoing in the Senate of Obama judicial appointees alongside our demands for Garland.

Eleven district court nominees have cleared the judiciary committee and await action on the Senate floor. None of them are controversial and all sailed out of committee by voice vote. Waverly Crenshaw of Tennessee's nomination has been waiting on the Senate floor since last July. McConnell could have a vote on him and the other 10 all during the next Senate session and every one of them could be on the job next week, actually, you know, providing justice.

Most of the other district (and likely most of the Circuit judges) are completely uncontroversial as well and would sail through, but Grassley is slow walking them.

I'm not suggesting that we should sacrifice a Supreme Court nominee for district or even circuit judges. However, loudly and continuously reminding the GOP that we haven't forgotten about Obama's other judicial nominees alongside our complaints about the disgraceful treatment of Garland is useful. It might even provide enough political fiber to persuade McConnell to release some district judges and perhaps a few circuit court judges to appease the vulnerable members of his caucus and provide a fig-leaf to rebut charges of total obstruction.

It's small ball, but every Obama appointee that goes through eases delays of justice, makes government work more effectively and likely will help protect Obama's legacy well into the future.

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