Despite the unprecedented levels of obstruction from Republicans in the Senate, President Obama has managed to get a higher rate of Black judges confirmed than any other president in history, according to a court watchdog group.
Research from the Alliance for Justice shows that so far during the Obama administration, Blacks have accounted for 18.7 percent of the federal judicial confirmations, a sharp increase over the 7.3 percent confirmed under President George W. Bush. During the Clinton administration, 16.4 percent of the federal judicial confirmations were African American.
According the alliance’s website, its priorities include “fighting for a fair and independent judiciary by encouraging the selection of judges who respect constitutional values and the rights of citizens and by ensuring that the judicial selection process is fair and expeditious.”
During Obama’s time as the nation’s chief executive, women have made up 41 percent of the federal judges who have been confirmed, compared to 22 percent under George W. Bush and 29 percent during Clinton’s tenure.
Obama has also managed to get more Asian Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and gays confirmed than Bush and Clinton, the research shows.
“This is the best slate of judicial nominees I’ve seen from any president since I’ve been at the Lawyers’ Committee, since 1989,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “I’ve never seen a more diverse slate, I’ve never seen a more highly-rated slate. I’ve never seen a slate with this kind of deep diversity.”
Yet, the current slate of judicial nominees has faced unparalleled delays in the Senate. President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited an average of 115 days between judiciary committee vote and confirmation, more than double the average wait time of President Bush’s nominees. Forty percent of President Obama’s district court picks have waited more than 100 days for a vote on the Senate floor, compared to 8 percent of Bush’s nominations. Sixty-nine percent of President Obama’s circuit court judicial nominations have waited more than 100 days for a vote on the Senate floor. Only 15 percent of Bush’s circuit court nominations waited that long.
Meanwhile, the problem of judicial vacancies is getting worse. During Bush’s sixth year, there were only 48 judicial vacancies. By 2013, however, there were 91 vacancies.
The slow churn in the Senate’s judicial confirmation process continues to strain resources, experts said. By 2010, civil litigants were waiting more than two years (25.3 months) for a jury trial. That same year, the federal government spent $1.4 billion to house prisoners before the start of their trials, due in part to the lack of judges to hear cases, according to the Justice Department.
After years of blocked nominations and procedural delays employed by the Republicans, who are in the minority in the Senate, Democrats, headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed the button on the “nuclear option” last November. It allowed for debate to be ceased on a particular issue with a simple majority vote. The historic move effectively ended efforts by Republicans to block votes by employing the filibuster and cleared the way for some of President Obama’s judicial nominations and executive-level positions to be confirmed.
“The [Obama] administration has really had a difficult row to hoe because of the difficulties in the Senate,” said Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Senate has accorded this president less respect, less deference, and less cooperation than any president I’ve seen.”
The Obama administration’s success in the federal judiciary has not come without sacrifice, however. President Obama has been forced to withdraw five Black judicial nominations, most recently, William Thomas, an openly gay Black judge in Florida, who was opposed by some Republicans.