Ah, Monday Cranky Blogging. It's been a while. I'm not sure why; it's possible it's because the Sunday newspapers are running fewer annoying pieces...and it's possible it's because I'm less willing to read, and thus get annoyed by, the ones most likely to get me upset.
Which gets to a mostly solid Sunday column by the always excellent David Leonhardt about the judicial confirmation battles. Leonhardt looks at the claims and counterclaims about how much obstruction there's been, and concludes that obstruction of circuit court nominees has been about the same during Barack Obama's presidency as it was during the George W. Bush years, but that the obstruction of district court nominees has been worse.
I think that's basically the right story to tell. So why am I a bit cranky?
Leonhardt could have done a bit more about obstruction at the initial nomination stage, but at least he mentioned the "blue slip" problem, and he had limited space to work with, so that's pretty good, actually.
However, the item really is missing anything about partisan context.
The current Congress has had either 55 or 54 Democrats; the 109th Congress, in 2005-2006, had 55 Republicans. That's a dead even tie.
The previous Congress, 2011-2012, had 53 Democrats; the 108th, 2003-2004, had 51 Republicans. So Obama had a slightly better partisan context for his second Congress.
But the Congress they had at the beginning of their first terms were wildly different. For most of the 107th Congress, Democrats held a 51-49 majority; for about five months at the beginning, Republicans had a slim 50-50 majority, with Vice President Dick Cheney breaking the tie and allowing them to organize the body. For Obama, the historic 111th varied between 58, 59, and 60 Democrats -- a lopsided majority, and sometimes a filibuster-proof (sort of) supermajority.
That's a big deal! For one thing -- blocking the president's judicial nominees with a majority is really a much different thing than blocking them with a minority. In general, I don't think presidents are entitled to the people they want on the bench; if they select judges that the majority of the Senate opposes, then that's not really "obstruction" in the same way that using parliamentary procedures to push back a vote or to prevent one altogether is.
The bottom line is that there's no reason to have expected Bush's nominees in 2001-200 to have been as successful as Obama's in 2009-2010, all things being equal -- including out-party opposition.
As I said, overall it's an excellent item. Just excluding this one point makes me, oh, a little cranky.