Updated 2:20 p.m.
The lame-duck Senate continued to confirm federal judges at its quickest pace of the year, while more judicial nominations stand ready for votes when the Senate returns to Capitol Hill on Thursday.
The Senate confirmed five more district court judges in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois last week, for a total of 13 confirmations so far in December. That makes this month the second most active for filling the federal bench during this session of Congress, only behind the 15 confirmations made in October 2011, according to statistics from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
On Friday, the Senate confirmed Jon Tigar as a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of California, as well as two district judges Friday to the Middle District of Pennsylvania – Matthew Brann and Malachy Mannion. Those bench positions had been declared judicial emergencies and had been open for more than two years, prompting Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to write a letter to Senate leadership in September, urging confirmation votes.
The rapid pace has all but eliminated the backlog of judicial nominees only awaiting action by the full Senate. There are now only six district court nominees awaiting votes before the Senate – four of which were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this month. For months, the backlog became a major point of contention between Democrats, who argued Republicans were needlessly delaying confirmation votes, and Republicans, who said the pace of confirmations was similar to previous presidents.
The Senate's executive calendar also lists four federal circuit judges and key administration posts ready for confirmation votes, including Richard Taranto for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and William Baer for assistant attorney general for DOJ's antitrust division.
Taranto, first nominated in November 2011, has been waiting for a Senate vote since March. He would fill one of four vacancies in the 11-judge circuit. The Senate has not confirmed a circuit nominee since June because Republicans cited the so-called Thurmond Rule, a loosely defined Senate tradition of backing off from filling circuit court seats in the waning months of a president's term.
Other circuit court nominees awaiting votes include Patty Shwartz, of New Jersey, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; William Kayatta Jr., of Maine, for the First Circuit; and Robert Bacharach, of Oklahoma, for the Tenth Circuit. Kayatta and Bacharach have had support from their home-state senators.
Baer, who at first had broad support in his bid for the Department of Justice spot, had several Republicans vote against him because of something found in a background check. The senators have refused to say why they voted against him at the committee level, citing an agreement to keep private the information in the background checks of nominees. Though the Senate calendar lists these posts as ready for possible confirmation votes this week, no such votes have yet been scheduled. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) office did not respond immediately to questions about confirmation votes before the end of the session.
If the session ends without a vote on those nominees, President Barack Obama would have to re-nominate them during the next session.