President Barack Obama's record on judicial nominees has been so unsuccessful he is making the tumultuous Clinton presidency look effective by comparison, a former Clinton official said today.
Eleanor Acheson was an assistant attorney general under President Bill Clinton. For eight years, she led the U.S. Justice Department’s policy office, which then as now helped to vet candidates for the federal judiciary and worked with nominees as they went through the Senate process.
“He’s making us look good,” Acheson said of Obama. “All we got was criticism, criticism, criticism, for so many years.”
During his first two years, Clinton saw the Senate confirm 126 of his district and circuit court nominees, more than double the 60 confirmed during Obama’s first two years. George W. Bush had 100, George H. W. Bush had 70, Ronald Reagan had 86 and Jimmy Carter had 62, according to the database of the Federal Judicial Center.
Now the general counsel of Amtrak, Acheson spoke at the Brookings Institution during a panel discussion about judicial nominees. She said that of all the things Democrats could do to speed up the process for judicial nominees, the easiest would be to bulk up the Obama administration’s resources and focus on getting more names to the Senate. Obama, Acheson said, was slow to invest in the resources “necessary to build the infrastructure for the judicial nomination process.”
“Your highest calling is to have a nominee for every vacancy,” Acheson said. “If you do not have that pressure, you do not have standing to complain a lot.”
According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there are 46 Obama nominees for 99 judicial vacancies. Senate Republicans have noted that discrepancy in rebutting criticism that they are to blame for a persistently high vacancy rate.
Obama shook up his nominations staff a year ago. Cassandra Butts, who had run the process as a deputy White House counsel, left to take a job with the Millennium Challenge Corp. She was succeeded by Susan Davies, a former Senate Judiciary Committee general counsel, and the pace of nominations has since picked up. Christopher Schroeder, who has the post Acheson once held, was not confirmed until April 2010.
Manus Cooney, another Brookings Institution panelist and former Republican staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that the Obama administration has had many other items on its to-do list. “Votes can be forced on judicial nominations, but is there a political will to do it in the face of so many other pressing priorities?” Cooney asked.
Still, Acheson said, the White House lost valuable time. “This administration can fix it for sure if they now realize what they need to do,” she said. “The un-remediable part is the first Congress [of the administration], which they have lost.”
Earlier: Judge Says Senate Is Injuring Federal Judiciary.