Obama’s Empty Federal Bench

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/safari_vacation/5929769873/sizes/m/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Flickr/s_falkow</a>

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There are more empty seats on the federal bench now than when President Barack Obama took office, according to a Congressional Research Service report, skewing federal courts to the right and leaving some jurisdictions with overwhelming caseloads.

From same-sex marriage to health care to immigration, the past few years have shown just how important the federal judiciary can be in shaping how Americans live their lives. Yet the study, first posted by Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, shows what liberal legal advocacy groups have been saying for a while: The Obama administration is lagging behind its recent predecessors when it comes to judicial confirmations. The report notes that Obama is the only one of the last three presidents to have more district and circuit court vacancies today than when he first entered the White House. 

Here’s a chart from the report:

The chart makes it clear that, as my colleague Nick Baumann reported last year, this isn’t simply a matter of Republican obstruction, although that is an important factor. Even if that ceased tomorrow, the Obama administration has offered so few judicial nominations that most of the vacancies still wouldn’t be filled. Recess appointments aren’t a solution, because without Senate approval lifetime judicial appointments become short term ones.  Should Obama lose the 2012 election, the number of vacancies would set up a President Mitt Romney with the opportunity to pack the federal bench with Republican nominees. 

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

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