As Senate Republicans added blocking aid to small business to their record-setting obstructionism, Democrats this week failed to secure the needed votes for reform of the filibuster rule. But largely overlooked in the debate over the filibuster is the Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism when it comes to the confirmation of President Obama's judicial nominees. As it turns out, while the GOP in the 111th Congress has turned to the filibuster at more than double the previous Democratic rates, Barack Obama's nominees to the federal bench are half as likely to be confirmed.
That's the jaw-dropping conclusion of a recent study by the study by the Center for American Progress. Thanks to the Republicans' historic use of Filibusters, anonymous holds, and other obstructionist tactics, President Obama's confirmation rate is "falling off a cliff." The CAP assessment of data from the Congressional Research Service, the Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee found that:
Such tactics are completely unprecedented, and so are their results. Fewer than 43 percent of President Obama's judicial nominees have so far been confirmed, while past presidents have enjoyed confirmation rates as high as 93 percent. And President Obama's nominees have been confirmed at a much slower rate than those of his predecessor--nearly 87 percent of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees were confirmed.
To be sure, the Republicans' successful rearguard action is helping to preserve conservative dominance of the federal judiciary. But with its sluggish pace of nominations, the Obama administration isn't helping itself.
Last November Charlie Savage of the New York Times warned that the "opportunities to reshape judiciary are slipping away." And Republican obstructionism was only part of the story:
By this point in 2001, the Senate had confirmed five of Mr. Bush's appellate judges -- although one was a Clinton pick whom Mr. Bush had renominated -- and 13 of his district judges. By contrast, Mr. Obama has received Senate approval of just two appellate and four district judges...
Mr. Bush, who made it an early goal to push conservatives into the judicial pipeline and left a strong stamp on the courts, had already nominated 28 appellate and 36 district candidates at a comparable point in his tenure. By contrast, Mr. Obama has offered 12 nominations to appeals courts and 14 to district courts.
In March, the Los Angeles Times reported that the same dynamic of a distracted Obama White House and scorched-earth Republican opposition was continuing to leave vacancies across the federal courts:
During President Obama's first year, judicial nominations trickled out of the White House at a far slower pace than in President George W. Bush's first year. Bush announced 11 nominees for federal appeals courts in the fourth month of his tenure. Obama didn't nominate his 11th appeals court judge until November, his 10th month in office...
Key slots stand without nominees, including two on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the body that reviews decisions by federal agencies and a court that is considered second in importance only to the Supreme Court. Federal judicial vacancies nationwide have mushroomed to well over 100, with two dozen more expected before the end of the year. To date, the Obama administration has nominees for just 52 of those slots, and only 17 have been confirmed.
In President Obama's defense, the administration has been stretched thin, grappling with the Bush recession, health care reform and two wars. But the window of opportunity to undo the dramatic rightward swing of the Third Branch is closing fast. As for Republicans, in 2007 then Mississippi Senator Trent Lott explained how the GOP would approach judicial nominations - and virtually anything else Democrats would want to do:
"The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it's working for us."
For more background, data, and charts, see "For GOP and Media, Obstructionism is the New Normal", "GOP Wins Gold Medal for Obstructionism", and "Bipartisanship's Willing Executioners."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)