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So Where Are the Judges, Anyway?

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  • So Where Are the Judges, Anyway?

    It seems that this is a more popular parlor game than we might have imagined — postgaming President Obama’s first year. Earlier Wednesday, we gave you Jan Crawford’s take, mostly on the national security angle.

    Now comes the New Yorker’s Jeff Toobin, providing his own written evaluation. Toobin focuses more specifically on Obama and judges. And Toobin’s got one main question: Why hasn’t Obama been busier?

    Toobin writes:
    When Obama took office, there were more than a hundred vacancies on the federal appeals and district courts. One year into his tenure, Obama has made only thirty-one appointments to those courts, and just twelve have been confirmed. In George W. Bush’s first year, with a similar number of vacancies, he made sixty-four nominations. White House officials assert that ten new district court nominations are imminent, but the overall pace remains astonishingly slow.

    So what the heck gives? We, frankly, are all for more judges. The federal bench is in many parts of the country stretched quite thin, and find it sort of ridiculous that any president would let linger outstanding appointments for months and months.

    Toobin blames part of it on Sonia Sotomayor; that the battle to seat her took the administration’s eye off the ball for a bit.

    But there’s another big issue at play, too, according to Toobin: that Obama wanted the judge-appointment process, especially at the appellate court level, to be bi-partisan, partly so “the judiciary would inch away from the culture wars.”

    But bi-partisanship hasn’t worked out all that well for Obama. It’s failed on health care and it, writes Toobin, failed on judges as well:
    Republicans have stalled on many nominations, fought others, and mostly done their best to slow down the pace. What’s perplexing is that Obama himself has not filled the pipeline with nominations; if he did, Republicans might feel some pressure to move the process along. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has held prompt hearings for all of Obama’s nominees, but he can’t hold hearings on nominations that haven’t yet been made.

    And it might get worse before it gets better:
    Obama himself is currently going through a rough patch in his presidency, and his influence on Capitol Hill is waning. An assertive Republican minority will probably only feel emboldened to engage in ever more obstructionist tactics. A thin slate of judicial nominees only makes the Republicans’ task easier.

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