by Jeremy Leaming
In a State of the Union address that was largely focused on promoting policies intended to tackle the nation’s festering economic inequalities, President Obama found a moment to urge an end to destructive delays of his selections to federal offices, including his nominations to the federal bench.
“Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days,” Obama said toward the latter end of his lengthy address. “A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything – even routine business – passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.”
According to JudicialNominations.org, there are 84 vacancies on the federal bench, 32 of which are considered judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. A recent study by the Brookings Institution’s Russell Wheeler shows that vacancies on the federal bench have jumped during the president’s tenure, in part due to the mounting delays in the Senate of consideration of judicial nominations.
In an ACS Issue Brief, UNC School of Law Professor Michael Gerhardt and University of Minnesota Law School Professor Richard Painter, citing the rising rancor over judicial nominations, called on lawmakers to renew efforts to end the obstruction. The authors decried the use of “judicial filibusters, among other means of obstruction within the Senate,” saying they are creating a federal judiciary that is not “operating at full strength.”
The bulk of the president’s address, however, centered on the nation’s growing wealth gap, which the Occupy Wall Street protests have helped propel to the forefront of the nation’s attention.
The president reiterated his argument, fully addressed in his Dec. 6 speech from Osawatomie, Kan., that economic policy should stop coddling the nation’s super wealthy. Specifically he proposed that those making more than $1 million a year should pay at least 30 percent in federal income taxes.
Speaking to those who downplay or give short-shrift to discussion of economic inequality, the president said, “You can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”
The president also said, “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”