Court Foul: Obama’s Judges Won’t Be Warming DC Bench Anytime Soon
In four years, not one of the judges President Obama nominated to join the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals has been confirmed. It's normally a relatively quick and efficient process. How do you know this is unusual? We're reporting on it.
From the beginning of his first term, Republican leaders in the Senate have blocked every nomination Obama has offered, resulting in three vacancies out of eleven seats. A fourth is expected due to chief justice David Sentelle taking senior status, or semi-retirement, later this month.
“They will object for all sorts of reasons to his nominees, and he’s bent over backwards to find ways to accommodate them,” said Michael J. Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and an expert in federal court issues. “It’s been practically impossible to find common ground.”
The latest nominee to be delayed is Sri Srinivasan, a moderate candidate who clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican appointee. Senate Republicans currently intend to examine Srinivasan’s role in a settlement involving the Fair Housing Act, despite no evidence of improper activity or that he even had a significant role in the case.
While objections to justice appointments to federal courts are nothing new, it is unusual for a President to endure such a protracted nomination process.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Gerhardt said. “He’s gone more than a term without being able to [appoint a justice], and I don’t think any other president’s faced that kind of resistance or obstruction for that long.”
The DC Circuit Court is still able to hold quorum, but Gerhardt says the vacancies have resulted in a shift in the court's ideological balance, greater workloads for the justices, and a reduced ability to handle cases.
The length of the obstructionism also raises questions about whether Senate Republicans were attempting to wait out Obama’s presidency to approve more conservative justices under failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The obstructions have also provoked concerns about future Supreme Court nominations. Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, 79, may well step down in 2015.
“One way to keep someone from becoming a Supreme Court nominee is to keep them from becoming a judge at all, and that may be a motivation for some Senators,” Gerhardt said.
The DC Court has historically been a stepping stone to the Supreme Court: current Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg are all alumni.
Jenn Nowicki is a reporter for Campus Progress.