Obama Makes Bold Move on Judicial Nominations, Urging Senate to Fill Vacancies

November 14, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

While conservative lawmakers in Congress try to figure out how to protect tax breaks for the nation’s superrich, President Obama is moving ahead on multiple fronts. Not only is the president pushing back against conservatives’ rigid tax policy, he’s quickly addressing the vacancy crisis on the federal bench.

Today he announced seven nominations to the federal bench, a diverse bunch, as is Obama’s practice. (Last year National Public Radio noted the federal bench is still dominated by white men, but that the president in his first term had made great strides to diversify the bench.)

None of today’s nominees were white men. The president nominated to the federal bench, Valerie E. Caproni, Kenneth John Gonzales, Claire R. Kelly, Raymond P. Moore, Beverly Reid O’Connell, William L. Thomas, Analisa Torres and Derrick Kahala Watson.

ACS President Caroline Fredrickson lauded today’s nominations, saying that the president has “made it clear that our courts are a priority. We commend his swift action and we are hopeful the Senate will act promptly and demonstrate a move toward renewed bipartisanship both in the lame duck and the 113th Congress.”  

In a press release about the nominees, the president reiterated his commitment to making the federal bench more reflective of society and to tackling the high number of vacancies on the bench.

“These individuals have demonstrated the talent, expertise, and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system,” Obama said. “They also represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”

He added, “Too many of our courtrooms stand empty. I hope the Senate will promptly consider all of my nominees and ensure justice for everyday Americans.”

As noted yesterday, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has proven resourceful at slowing to a crawl the placement of judges on the federal bench. There are currently more than 80 vacancies. See JudicialNominations.org for more on the vacancy crisis.

McConnell and many of his colleagues will likely cite the so-called fiscal cliff as an all-consuming matter, and that judicial nominations can wait until after the president is sworn in for a second term in January.

But other senators say using the pending draconian spending cuts as an excuse to ignore a federal bench that has a historic number vacancies is disingenuous and tiresome. In a press statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), noting the importance of lawmakers to “come together” to avoid outlandish cuts in many domestic programs, also said there was no excuse to continue obstructing judicial nominations.

“The American people have decided that President Obama will continue to lead our nation,” Leahy said. “In accordance with the will of the American people, it is time for the obstruction to end and for the Senate to complete action on these nominees so that they may serve the American people without further delay.”

A gaggle of Senate Republicans have urged confirmation of some of the nominations during the lame duck session. In a Nov. 13 letter to McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Me.) called on the leaders to “move forward expeditiously to schedule votes on noncontroversial nominees who have bipartisan support ….” Seventeen of the 19 judicial nominations left pending before the Senate recessed had received bipartisan approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Whether Senate Republicans can accept the outcome of the 2012 elections, get over themselves and change course on judicial nominations appears to be a tall order. But today’s action suggests the president is willing to apply pressure and bring greater attention to fixing a hobbled court system. The obstructionism in the Senate likely satisfied some political urges, but is has harmed scores of Americans who need access to an effective, efficient judicial system.