Bench Memos

President Obama’s Nominations Pace

Sunday’s New York Times has an interesting article on the relatively slow pace of judicial nominations by President Obama—relative, that is, to the first-year pace of President George W. Bush:

Mr. Bush … had already nominated 28 appellate and 36 district candidates at a comparable point in his tenure. By contrast, Mr. Obama has offered 12 nominations to appeals courts and 14 to district courts.

Fairly or not, it appears that recently departed White House deputy counsel Cassandra Butts—a longtime friend of President Obama—has borne the brunt of blame for the delays.  Butts has just become senior adviser to the Millennium Challenge Corporation—not what many folks would regard as a lateral move, much less a promotion.

I do find Obama’s slow pace surprising (and am quoted as saying so in the article).  But while it’s understandable that Obama supporters are concerned by the slow pace, it’s worth highlighting that President Clinton had made only five appellate nominations by roughly this point in his first year (1993)—but that he ended up appointing a full 16 appellate judges during his second year (1994).  Clinton’s total of 19 appellate appointees during his first two years slightly exceeded Bush’s total of 17 during his first two years.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, under chairman Leahy, is certainly doing its best to fill the pipeline quickly:  This week, it will hold its ninth hearing on a federal appellate nominee.  By contrast, the committee under chairman Leahy held a grand total of eight hearings on federal appellate nominees during the combined final two years of the Bush administration.  (The contrast is even starker in light of the fact that there were no nominees in the pipeline at the beginning of the year—all of the hearings have occurred since April—and given all the time and attention consumed by the Sotomayor hearing.)