WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven months after curbing filibusters, Democrats are aggressively pushing President Barack Obama's judicial nominees through the Senate, speeding the pace of confirmations and shrinking vacancies on the federal bench to their lowest level since days after Obama took office.
The Democratic drive comes with the party facing difficult November elections that could turn over Senate control to Republicans and make it harder for Obama to win approval for judges during his final two years in office. That also would threaten his chances for matching the number of circuit court of appeals and district court judges his immediate predecessors put on the federal bench in their eight-year terms: 324 by President George W. Bush and 372 by President Bill Clinton.
The Senate has confirmed 54 of Obama's judicial choices since Nov. 21, when majority Democrats made it harder for Republicans to use filibusters to derail nominations. Twenty-eight judges have been confirmed in just the past seven weeks, with at least three more coming up for votes this week.
By contrast, the Senate filled 36 judgeships in the first 11 months of 2013 before the filibuster was weakened, and 49 in all of 2012.
Thanks to the push, Obama has appointed 261 appeals and district court judges — all of them lifetime positions — filling nearly a third of the entire federal judiciary since entering the White House. At the same point in his sixth year, the second President Bush had filled 242 such vacancies, according to Russell Wheeler, who studies the federal judiciary at the Brookings Institution.
The influx of Obama judges is likely to give the federal courts a more liberal tint than they've had in recent decades. Before he entered the White House, Republican presidents had been appointing judges for 20 of the previous 28 years.
"A president in office eight years leaves a stamp on the judiciary," said Nancy Zirkin, policy director for the Leadership Conference, a liberal coalition. "Obama will be able to leave a stamp."