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Obama ‘Outpacing’ Bush on Judicial Confirmations

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President Obama has gotten more federal judges confirmed at every level than his predecessor had at this point in his presidency.

POLITICO (“Obama now outpacing George W. Bush on judges“):

Problems getting judges confirmed by the Senate have been a constant complaint for this White House — but this week, President Barack Obama’s aides are celebrating a confirmation count that outpaces President George W. Bush’s.

They’ve had that goal on their minds for over a year, ever since chief of staff Denis McDonough and counsel Kathy Ruemmler reprioritized judicial nominations for Obama’s second term.

John Owens, confirmed Monday to the Ninth Circuit, along with Edward Smith and Gerald McHugh, who confirmed to the district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania last week, put them over the top.

Over the course of his presidency so far, Obama has nominated 301 judges and gotten 237 confirmed. By this point in his presidency, Bush had nominated 267 judges and had 234 of them confirmed.

As of April 4, Obama has gotten 44 circuit court judges and 191 district court judges confirmed. As of April 4, 2006, Bush had 43 circuit court and 189 district court judges confirmed.

I’d add that Obama has thus far gotten two Supreme Court justices approved, matching Bush’s total, and still has almost three years to add to that total. Given their ages, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer retired toward the end of Obama’s term, especially if it starts to look like a Republican will succeed him. And, while they’re likely to hold out as long as they can for another Republican president, neither Antonin Scalia nor Anthony Kennedy are spring chickens.

Still, while these counts put into some perspective the complaints about Obama’s ability to get judges confirmed, the fact of the matter is that he’s had more vacancies to fill than did Bush. Bush’s were confirmed at a rate of 87.64 percent (234 confirmed out of 267 nominated) vice Obama’s 78.74 percent (237 of 301).

Granted, April 4 is a rather arbitrary deadline, so the numbers may even out over time. Indeed, it looks like that’s happening:

There are currently 31 Obama judicial nominees — six for circuit court and 25 for district court — pending on the Senate floor. Of those, 13 would fill judicial emergencies and 20 were voted out of committee unanimously.

But it took implementing the dreaded “nuclear option” to get to this point.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Good news about Congress? Say it ain’t so!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Eric Florack says:

    So much for the often made claim that the GOP is blocking a huge number of judicial nominees… unless the Democrats want to acknowlege their part in blocking the even larger list during the Bush years.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 17

  3. Tillman says:

    @Eric Florack: It’s a matter of tense. As James points out,

    But it took implementing the dreaded “nuclear option” to get to this point.

    Before then, the number of confirmed judges was much lower since they’d be automatically filibustered by the minority.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. Eric Florack says:

    @Tillman: Doubtful.
    There’s no way that number of confirmations would go by that quickly. without the media noticing, or the advocacy groups. The facts are more likely to be that the numbers weren’t so far apart to begin with.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  5. mattbernius says:

    @Tillman:

    Before then, the number of confirmed judges was much lower since they’d be automatically filibustered by the minority.

    Correct. In that sense James buried the lead a bit.

    I need to do some research, but I have the same recollection — that before the Nuclear Option, Obama’s confirmation success rate significantly lagged behind all of his predecessors.

    That said, as Dave Schuler has also pointed out in the past, the administration was also naming people at a slower rate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Grewgills says:

    25 of the 237 were confirmed after the ‘nuclear option’ was exercised and another 45 when the passage was immanent, that is nearly a third of his total. Anyone who thinks the Republicans haven’t been more obstructionist on this is either willfully ignorant or just plain ignorant.

    I didn’t want to (directly) feel the troll.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  7. Eric Florack says:

    @Grewgills: Hard to do when you’re being rather troll-like yourself.
    Did you think Id not notice?

    25 of the 237 were confirmed after the ‘nuclear option’ was exercised

    Right.
    So, how is that inconsistent with…

    The facts are more likely to be that the numbers weren’t so far apart to begin with.

    (Foot tapping)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  8. stonetools says:

    @Tillman:

    Bingo. What happened was that during the whole first term, the Obama Administration and the Democrats were insisting that the Republicans should play the judicial and Administrative confirmation by the Marquis of Queensbury rules. The Republicans, meanwhile, were street fighting-using, and abusing, every legislative tool at their command to prevent Obama from making judicial and agency appointments.
    The Republicans have always been much more focused on importance of judicial appointments to the Federal bench. In the Federalist Society, they have set up a virtual farm system for recruiting, developing, and grooming federal judges with the “right” ideology and have been packing the federal courts with these judges. They’ve even focused on establishing and maintain majorities on important appellate courts like the DC Court of Appeals.
    The Democrats, meanwhile, had sort of have been bumping along, trusting to fate and calling for comity. Finally, Harry Reid convinced some of the older Senate Democrats to take off the gloves and invoke the nuclear option. The Obama Administration seemed to also decided to focus on judicial appointments in the second term, probably because its become obvious that there will be no more law-making for this Presidency. Of course, the Democrats still have some catching up to do. They don’t have a Federalist Society type farm system turning out a stream of reliably liberal judges ready for appointment to the bench (and I’m not even sure that’s a good idea). However, the Democrats are at least focused on filling those appointments while they can. I’m hoping they go into overdrive before the summer, because if they lose the Senate, there will be no further judicial appointments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  9. Grewgills says:

    @Eric Florack:
    The ‘nuclear option’ was exercised in November of last year (~5 mos ago). The first nomination he put forward was in June of 2009, the second not until September of 2009. So between June 2009 and November 2013 there were 212 confirmations out of nearly 300 (~70%). If we restrict the period to when the ‘nuclear option’ was a foregone conclusion then less than 170 out of nearly 300 justices put forward by Obama were confirmed. That’s barely better than 55% compared to the >85% confirmation rate for GWB.
    tRY HARDER.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. Eric Florack says:

    @Grewgills:

    If we restrict the period to when the ‘nuclear option’ was a foregone conclusion then less than 170 out of nearly 300 justices put forward by Obama were confirmed.

    Interesting manipulation.

    That said, the fact remains that as you say, 70% of his appointments were confirmed before the nuclear option was put in play.

    One might infer the issue for the remainder, was a lack of qualified appointees under Obama, eh? Look, I’m no fan of Bush. But one thing that can be said, he was willing to put forward far less controversial appointments than Obama. Unlike Obama there were no hard-liners.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  11. Tillman says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Look, I’m no fan of Bush. But one thing that can be said, he was willing to put forward far less controversial appointments than Obama. Unlike Obama there were no hard-liners.

    Name some.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tillman: Samuel Alito.
    .
    .
    .
    BWAHAHAHAHAAHAAAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAHAAHAHAHAAAA…. gasp…. wheeze….

    Sometimes I just crack me up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  13. PJ says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Do you actually believe that the 45 who were confirmed when passage of the nuclear option was imminent aren’t at all connected with the probable passage of the nuclear option? That somehow, after years of blocking Obama’s nominees, the Republicans just stopped blocking 45 of them?

    Maybe you think it was an early Christmas present?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. Rob in CT says:

    Hardliners, hah.

    Anyway, nice to see Obama’s rate bump up. It took some hardball to get there, and there’s still some ways to go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0