Outside editorial: Stop sitting on judges

Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday, Sept. 13:

The Senate Republican leadership should stop its delaying tactics on President Obama's judicial nominees.

And Obama needs to assert himself more if he's to fill a glaring number of vacancies on the federal bench.

The stalemate on judges has resulted in the worst record for confirmations for a first-term president in the last 40 years. Senators have approved only 40 of Obama's 85 judicial nominations, in spite of Democrats' controlling a significant majority of Senate seats during Obama's first two years.

Out of 854 federal judgeships, 102 are vacant. The judiciary has labeled 47 of those vacancies as emergencies, due to heavy caseloads.

There are six vacancies in Pennsylvania for U.S. district judgeships, as well as two in New Jersey, and one in Delaware. Obama has yet to nominate candidates for these seats, despite vacancies dating back in some cases to early 2009.

Obama should be more active about nominating candidates, and more forceful about getting the Senate to act on his nominations.

Obama has approached this duty with an attitude approaching timidity or disinterest. The president hasn't even tried to fill two vacancies on the powerful federal appeals court for the District of Columbia, considered a training ground for future Supreme Court nominees.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are doing whatever they can to block or delay the nominations that the president does send to Congress. Their tactics run the gamut from filibusters to anonymous holds.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the delays are party payback for the way Senate Democrats treated the nominees of Republican President George W. Bush. While Democrats did play partisan games with some of Bush's nominees, they also confirmed 85 percent of his District Court appointees and 52 percent of his appeals court nominees in his first two years in office.

Obama has made a focused effort to install more women and minorities on the federal bench. Longtime observers of the nomination process say the stalling is not a reaction to the president's push for diversity, but is a worsening of the partisan warfare that has gone on for decades.

The problem could grow worse if, as expected, Republicans pick up more Senate seats in the November elections. The president and Senate leaders need to reach an understanding to get beyond partisanship and fill more of these posts. The timely operation of the federal justice system depends on it.



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