POLITICS
12/14/2012 12:24 am ET

Federal Court Vacancies Proliferate Under Obama

A New York Times editorial published Wednesday criticized the "severe breakdown" in federal court appointments during President Obama's first term, urging the president to make staffing the nation's courts a priority over the next four years.

According to the United States Courts, there are currently 78 district and circuit court judgeships vacant. Of those vacancies, 33 are considered "judicial emergencies," meaning the number of cases per panel of judges has surpassed the threshold for what one court can be expected to handle.

"President Obama must make fully staffing the federal courts an important part of his second-term agenda — starting with the immediate Senate confirmation of the 18 nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee," the editorial reads.

As The Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery reported earlier this month, the rampant proliferation of judicial vacancies can be attributed to both obstruction in the Senate and the lack of nominations by the Obama administration:

Senate obstruction is the most widely cited source of the crisis. But Obama's record when it comes to nominating judges is also lackluster. He hasn't put forward as many nominees as his predecessors, a fact that Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said is fueling the crisis with judicial vacancies. By this point in their presidencies, Clinton and Bush had nominated 247 and 231 judicial nominees, respectively. Obama has only put up 215.

But naming more nominees doesn't mean Senate Republicans would necessarily move any faster to confirm them, said a White House aide. "If my coffee pot only makes one cup per hour, no matter how many coffee beans I pour into it, the number of cups coming out will still be the same," said the aide. "It doesn’t matter how many more judges we jam into the pipeline, the vacancy rate doesn't change at all. The bottleneck is the Senate."

In order to expedite the appointment process, the editorial board recommends filibuster reform and speeding up the process by which senators recommend candidates for federal trial judgeships in their states. It also presses the Obama administration to spend more time and resources considering the appointments.

"The Constitution requires the president, with the Senate’s advice and consent, to fill federal judgeships," the Times editorial reads. "That duty has been terribly neglected and needs to be an absolute priority in the coming year."

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