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The Senate has confirmed far fewer judicial nominees at this point in President Obama’s first term than it had for his two predecessors in office, and the percentage of confirmed district court nominees is at historically low levels. When President Obama was sworn into office there were 55 district and circuit court vacancies, including 20 seats considered “judicial emergencies” by the administrative office of the U.S. Courts.ii Today, the number of vacancies has risen over 50%, to 83 seats, 34 of which are judicial emergencies.iii This trend stands in stark contrast to President Clinton and President Bush’s first four years, when vacancies declined by 65% and 34%, respectively.
Today, nearly one out of eleven federal judgeships is vacant. These deplorable facts did not happen by accident—they are mostly due to Republican Senators’ abuse of Senate procedure to obstruct even non-controversial nominees.
This short report 1) documents some of the tactics that Republicans have used to block nominees during President Obama’s first term, 2) provides historical context to those tactics, and 3) describes several Senate rules reform proposals that may help alleviate some of the problems that the current rules caused in the judicial selection process.