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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Senator Grassley Denies Republican Obstructionism, But Ongoing Judicial Vacancies Tell the Real Story

Refusing to accept responsibility for repeated Republican measures to halt judicial appointments, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) continues to cast blame for the nation’s ongoing judicial deficits everywhere but on the shoulders of the GOP. Even after the White House issued an infographic that clearly shows Republican obstruction of judicial nominees, Senator Grassley has refused to back down from his claims. Grassley claims, for example, that President Obama’s circuit and district court nominees have waited, on average, less time to receive Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and be reported to the Senate floor than President Bush’s comparable nominees.

The problem with Senator Grassley’s numbers is that they miss key points. In the first two years of the Obama presidency, the Senate confirmed a smaller percentage of the president’s nominees – 58 percent – than any president in history. This inaction on nominations – inaction that is a direct result of reflexive and repeated delay tactics by Republicans – caused the number of judicial vacancies to nearly double over the two year period, going from 55 to 97. For further information, see AFJ's special report, The State of the Judiciary: President Obama and the 111th Congress.

Today, there are 113 federal judicial vacancies. Despite Senator Grassley’s claims that Republicans in the 112th Congress are allowing nominations to move forward, that number is virtually the same as the day the Senate session began in January, when the number of empty seats in federal courtrooms was 114, leaving 1 in 7 federal judgeships vacant. Thirty-seven of these vacancies have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Despite the severe judicial deficit in the courts, only 34 of the president’s 90 nominees have been confirmed this year, and the overall confirmation rate for the president’s judicial appointments stands at 62 percent, significantly less than the 74 percent confirmed by this point in President George W. Bush’s first term and the 84 percent during the first term of President Bill Clinton.

All but four of President Obama’s nominees have been automatically held over in committee, a partisan strategy that stretches out the period from nomination to confirmation by weeks or, when the Senate goes on vacation, months. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) notes that even candidates coming out of committee without any opposition are being left in limbo for months more as Senate Republicans employ all possible means of preventing floor votes on their appointments.

There are currently nineteen pending judicial nominations awaiting a final vote on the Senate floor. Half of them have been awaiting a vote for over two months, even though all but four were unanimously supported by the Judiciary Committee.

Getting judges on the bench is an end-sum game; until nominees are voted on by the Senate, they cannot take their places in the courtrooms and judicial system of the nation. What is needed is an end to partisan gamesmanship and full Senate action to fill vacancies on the bench so that everyday Americans can seek, and be granted, justice in our courts.

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