Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

Dangling Nominees Under Clinton v. Bush 41


My boss, Boyden Gray, White House counsel to the first President Bush, sent this note to reporters today:

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Durbin sought to justify current Democratic filibusters by claiming that Republicans had held open judicial vacancies during President Clinton’s tenure in order to put Republican judges in those seats later. First, the confirmation slowdown under Clinton occurred mainly during the last year of his second term, a tradition that goes back many years and has been employed by both parties. More to the point, the same strategy was employed–to greater effect–by Senate Democrats at the end of President Bush 41’s single term in office.

Of the nominees left dangling from Clinton’s two terms, most did not get through the Judiciary Committee due to a specific cause: late nomination, problems with home-state senators, incomplete paperwork, or they were impeachable, meaning they had behavioral issues in their pasts that rendered them unacceptable. In many of these latter cases, the Clinton White House privately agreed with the decision not to move forward.

Nonetheless, Clinton was able to have 377 of his nominees confirmed—five short of the all-time record. He lost one floor vote for a nominee to the district court. Clinton’s eight-year appellate confirmation rate was 74%, in addition to getting two liberals confirmed to the Supreme Court. Many of the Clinton nominees who were delayed for long periods of time and not confirmed had problems with their home-state senators. For example, Helene White, Kathleen McRae Lewis, Jorge Rangel, Enrique Moreno, James Beatty and James Wynn all lacked support from one or both of their home-state senators and did not successfully negotiate these issues.

When the Senate adjourned for the last time under President Clinton, there were 41 nominations dangling and 67 judicial vacancies. Overall, that is a good record.

By comparison, during President George H.W. Bush’s single term, Democrats were more aggressive with such committee procedures. After creating 85 new judgeships in 1990, the majority Democrats slowed down the confirmation process to keep many of them open. After the Clarence Thomas confirmation fight, Democrats temporarily stopped the confirmation process entirely. Though a deal was reached to restart the process, the Democrats were able to keep many outstanding nominees off the bench, including Terry Boyle for the 4th Circuit, Frederica Moreno for the 11th Circuit, Lillian Bevier for the 4th Circuit, and John Roberts for the D.C. Circuit.

In all, at the end of the first President Bush’s term, 54 nominees did not get confirmed and we were left with 97 judicial vacancies.

If Clinton’s two terms are added together, the number left dangling is around 60–a figure Democrats cite regularly–or an average of about 30 per term, compared to 54 for the single term of the first President Bush.


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