Two months into the new 114th Congress, it’s a good time to take stock of how the Republican-controlled Senate is doing when it comes to processing circuit and district court judicial nominations. So far, the Judiciary Committee has held only one hearing to consider such nominations, and that was back in January. And even though no one questioned the four nominees’ qualifications, Chairman Grassley delayed a scheduled vote by two weeks without offering an explanation, so it took the committee more than five weeks after their hearing to finally advance them to the floor. No further hearings have been held (but one has been announced for next week).
As we have written before, a key metric for comparing how the Senate is doing in Obama’s last two years is how the newly-Democratic Senate handled George W. Bush’s nominees in the last two years of his presidency. The Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy was very busy during the first two months of the 110th Congress. There were numerous nominees from the previous Congress approved by the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee but left unconfirmed at the end of 2006. Rather than force them into new hearings for the benefit of the new committee members, Chairman Leahy arranged for quick votes instead. By this point in 2007, the committee had advanced ten such judicial nominees directly to the full Senate. Eight of them were already confirmed by the full Senate by mid-February. (The remaining two were confirmed on March 8.)
In addition to re-vetting and voting on these ten returning judicial nominees, the Judiciary Committee had also fully processed three first-time nominees by this point in 2007, with hearings quickly followed by committee votes just 3½ weeks later. (All three were confirmed by the end of March.)
In Bush’s last two years, the Senate confirmed 68 circuit and district court nominees, slashing the number of vacancies from 56 at the start of 2007 to as low as 34 in the fall of 2008. Today’s Republican Senate has confirmed no nominees so far this year. In the meantime, the number of current vacancies has climbed from 40 at the beginning of the year to 47 today, and the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 21.
As noted above, the Judiciary Committee has said it will hold a nominations hearing next week. Considering that there are seven circuit and district court nominees who were nominated back in November, they should all have hearings as soon as possible.