It has become increasingly clear that one of the top domestic priorities of the Bush administration and its right-wing allies is to move the federal courts dramatically to the right. Such a change would overturn decades of legal precedents, stripping the federal government of its constitutional authority to protect civil rights, reproductive choice, environmental protection, and much more.
Sadly, the "vacancy crisis" to which many Senate Republicans have referred is of their own making. After all, Republican senators blocked 35 percent of President Clinton’s appeals court nominees while the GOP controlled the Senate from 1995 to 2001. In fact, during this period, 45 percent of Clinton appeals court nominees failed to receive a vote in the Congress during which they were nominated. This blockade was so sweeping that it could result, by the end of this presidential term, in all 13 circuits of the appeals courts being controlled by Republican-nominated judges.
Senate Democrats have handled their responsibilities very differently. Already, in the 10 months since Democrats gained control of the chamber, the Senate has confirmed 52 nominees to the federal courts. This figure is more than three times the number confirmed during the first year of the G.H.W. Bush administration and nearly twice as many nominees as were confirmed during the first year of the Clinton administration.
The appeals courts are critically important. These courts hear tens of thousands of cases each year, while the Supreme Court reviews fewer than 100. For this reason, the appeals courts frequently have the final word on crucial areas of law for the millions of Americans living in their circuits. And this is why senators should exercise their constitutional role of "advice and consent" by examining the records and judicial philosophies of these nominees very closely. Many of these nominees—especially the first set of appeals court nominees from last May 9—appear to have judicial philosophies far from the mainstream.
If the president and his allies are truly interested in addressing the "crisis" in the federal courts—and not simply seeking to pack the courts with right-wing judges—they will work more closely with Senate Democrats in a spirit of bipartisanship and compromise.
For more information on judicial nominees:
A fact sheet on judicial nominations: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/judiciary/jud_fact_sheet.html
A closer look at several nominees who were among President Bush’s first set of appeals court nominees: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/judiciary/reports/05-09BushMay9Noms.html