Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Controversy!!!!

...must be the reason it took so long to confirm three district judges.  Let's see:

First, we have Tanya Platt.  She fills a fairly recent opening, from November 19, 2009.  She was nominated this year, on January 20.  She was confirmed today, after five months.  The vote?  95-0.

Elizabeth Foote was nominated more recently, on February 4 of this year.  The spot was vacant for a year before that, from February 14, 2009 (hey, that's Arizona Statehood Day!).  She was confirmed by voice vote.

And, between those two, the Senate found time to confirm Brian Jackson.  He was nominated back on October 29, 2009.  For an opening that's existed since January 15, 2007.  So putting aside whatever happened there under George W. Bush, that's ten months for Barack Obama to get around to nominating someone, and then almost eight months for the Senate to act.  Final vote?  That would be 96-0.

As I said, controversy.

Or, perhaps, not.  Three confirmations, about seventeen months of waiting between them, zero dissenting votes.  Yup; the confirmation process is broken.  However.

Please: don't think this is just a problem of Republicans stalling.  That's part of it, but the overall statistics for District Courts tell a difference story.  Subtracting these three spots, there are now 82 openings at the District Court level, and only 29 nominees pending.  The numbers are better for appellate judges, but even there six of the current eighteen openings have no nominee.  The numbers are better, but given the importance of these posts, it's perhaps even more negligent of the Obama administration to not even bother to nominate anyone before the Senate becomes more hostile to its choices next year.  By my count, eighteen of these spots have been open during the entire Obama presidency.  I haven't looked to see if any of those openings had nominees who withdrew, but barring that there's just no possible excuse for failing to even put a name forward, especially on the Court of Appeals spots. 

It would be a major scandal if Barack Obama had just ignored the retirement of Justices Stevens and Souter for a year or so.  It should be a scandal, a real black mark on his presidency, that he's ignoring the other judicial openings.  So Democrats should be upset that the Senate drags its feet, but they should focus most of their energy on getting the president to act. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah, but is the lack of nominees itself a product of the process being FANTASTICALLY broken?

    A lot of potential judges might not want the nomination knowing that it means a year or more of hearing nothing and keeping your life somewhat suspended for that time.

    Furthermore, you note that none of these had any dissent after a huge amount of time. Can you imagine how careful administrations have become over nominating anyone who has ever said anything? If these sqeuaky-clean ones take about a year to confirm, how long would someone who had protested once, or didn't vote in two elections, or wrote an opinion that got overturned by the supremes, or once had an idea to get confirmed? Would they even get confirmed?

    What's more, the whole game has a whiff of auditions for the supreme court to it. As such, administrations are looking for future justices to appoint as judges now. This is, of course, a fairly ridiculous enterprise.

    All of this, though, doesn't truly take away from your point that presidents have been falling down on nominations for a while, and it's been getting worse every year.

    I think that if you fix the process in the Senate, presidents would actually fill the jobs better. Not perfectly, but better.

    PS - Apropos of the recent CJR and Salon pieces, things like this post are an example of what better communication between scholars and reporters might accomplish. I hope that a columnist or reporter reads this, because perhaps it can filter its way up the reporting ladder to make it as either a background question to Gibbs or even a formal question to Gibbs, or, dare we dream, Obama. I know some columnists read Plain Blog, so how about it, guys? Care to pass this one up the ladder?

    PPS - I don't mean to imply that columnists are lower on some hierarchy of journalists, just that they can serve as part of a conduit of ideas to and fro the Beltway.

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