In remarks at the White House, Obama said he wants to work with Republicans to fill judicial vacancies. He did not name any individual nominees, but he appeared to reference Nashville, Tenn., labor lawyer Jane Stranch when he said nominees have been waiting as long as eight months to be confirmed.
Obama nominated Stranch in August 2009 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati. Although she has bipartisan support and there’s no organized, public effort to block her, she’s been waiting since November for a confirmation vote by the full Senate.
“Most of these folks were voted out of committee unanimously, or nearly unanimously, by both Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said. “Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that they were qualified to serve. Nevertheless, some in the minority have used parliamentary procedures time and again to deny them a vote in the full Senate.”
A week ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to a vote on Stranch’s nomination, saying he would work with Democrats to set a time later. Republicans have also blocked full Senate votes on two nominees for the 4th Circuit: state judges Albert Diaz and James Wynn Jr., who have been awaiting votes since January. (Pictured above: Wynn, left, and Diaz at their confirmation hearing.)
The Senate has confirmed 37 Obama nominees, including nine for circuit courts, 27 for district courts, and one, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for the U.S. Supreme Court. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the Senate had confirmed about 60 nominees, with the largest disparity between his and Obama’s record coming in the district court category. There are currently about 100 vacancies.
As The National Law Journal reported in February, the fights over Obama’s judicial nominees have provided a stark contrast to the noisy “judge wars” under Bush. Under Obama, the fights have been quiet, relying on the subtle use of Senate procedure. Moreover, Obama has rarely pushed the issue in public, focusing instead on legislative priorities such as health care and financial regulation. Democratic leaders in the Senate have followed suit.
Today’s remarks signal a possible shift. “If we want our judicial system to work, if we want to deliver justice in our courts, then we need judges on our benches,” Obama said. “I hope that in the coming months, we’ll be able to work together to ensure a timelier process in the Senate.”
Obama’s mention of the issue came toward the end of a six-minute speech in which he also addressed energy legislation and the war in Afghanistan.
Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.