By Russ Wheeler, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he studies the selection of U.S. judges and how courts function with other branches of government and the press, among other judicial topics. Wheeler is a former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center, research and education agency for the federal court system.
The buzz about likely nominees for Justice John Paul Stevens' Supreme Court seat is crowding out attention to the slow pace of nominations and confirmations of federal circuit and district judges. The fight over the Supreme Court vacancy will likely slow that pace even more.
The Obama administration lags behind the W. Bush administration's number of nominees and confirmations at the same point, leading to grousing from law professors and others. Hopes are fading fast among liberal federal court watchers that Obama's strong electoral victory will mean a major change -- at least in his current term -- in the mix of Democratic- and Republican-appointed federal judges, especially on the courts of appeals.
Here's a rundown of the pace of nominations and confirmations, and after that a look at some differences among Obama and Bush nominees at this point. More details are available here.
Nominations and confirmations as of April 14 2002/2010 Obama has made fewer nominations: 38 district and 18 circuit nominations, versus 69 and 28 for Bush (not including a Fourth Circuit judge whom Clinton recess appointed and Bush renominated). Obama inherited 54 vacancies, but now there are more than 100, and over 20 publicly announced future vacancies.