In 2012, Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, warned conservatives that an Obama second term could be detrimental to their hold on the Court. “If Obama wins reelection, he will likely appoint one – and perhaps three – more Supreme Court Justices,” he said. “It’ll be the end of our freedom forever.” Fortunately for conservatives, the Obama administration has been inactive concerning the judiciary.
The amount of judicial vacancies has increased, especially over the last few years. The number of judicial vacancies at the circuit and district court levels has reached near-record heights due to the slow-coming judicial nominations from the Obama administration and the aggressive push-back on those nominations by the Senate.
Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, who had appointed a third of serving federal judges by the time he left office, President Obama has done little else than make two successful nominations to the Supreme Court. And Senate Republicans have filibustered the President’s nominees with very little resistance from the Obama administration or Senate Democrats. In fact, Obama ended his first term with far fewer court appointments than both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made during their first four years. By the end of the third year of their first terms (1995 and 2003), both Clinton and Bush had significantly reduced the number of judicial vacancies they inherited.
For the Obama administration, this number grew during that same period, from 41 to 65. Also substantially increasing is the length of the confirmation process, or the number of days from a candidate’s nomination to their confirmation. The process now lasts an average of 223 days, as opposed to 154 days in Bush’s first term and 93 in Clinton’s.
The Obama transition team had a list of likely nominees for federal appeals courts; however, plans to nominate them were, for the most part, abandoned. President Obama nominated California Supreme Court Justice, Goodwin Liu, who was painted by some Republicans as wanting to make America more like “communist run China.”
The nomination was blocked by a Republican filibuster, but after failing to implement Liu, the President simply didn’t nominate anyone else of his caliber. Liberal academics like Pamela Karlan and Kathleen Sullivan, who would have made excellent counterpoints to conservatives put in place by the Bush administration, were never nominated.
And while Republicans continue to filibuster the Obama administration’s policies and nominees, the administration refuses to act on filibuster reform. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid ended the “first day” of the Senate without technically adjourning in order to maintain the ability to change the filibuster rule. Unfortunately, no one has seized the option.
Progressives had hoped, and conservatives feared, that Obama would appoint justices to offset those in place from the Bush administration. At this point, his administration has made little effort to fill judiciary vacancies or balance the Court with appointees who represent progressive values. Without a balanced Court, no amount of legislation will make a difference. As Pam Karlan said, “You can have all the players, but if the other side has all the umpires, you’re not going to win.”
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.