President Bush and Republican Senate leaders have falsely claimed that the administration’s judicial nominees were not treated fairly during the time that Democrats held a majority in the Senate, and that Democrats are now engaged in partisan obstructionism as a minority party. In fact, Bush’s judicial nominees have been confirmed at a rapid pace under both Democratic and Republican majorities in the Senate, and have been given far better treatment than President Clinton’s nominees received at the hands of the Republican Senate majority.
The Senate under Democratic control confirmed 100 of President Bush’s judicial nominees in 17 months. The 100 confirmations represent significantly more than the 71 judges confirmed during the first two years of the first Bush administration and the 75 confirmed during the first two years of Republican Senate control during the Clinton administration. The 100 confirmations are more than the number confirmed during any of the Republican controlled Congresses under President Clinton, when there was an average of only 38 confirmations per year. Indeed, Senate Republicans blocked one-third of Clinton’s circuit court nominees from 1995 to 2000.
Since the beginning of this year, with the Senate in Republican hands, an additional 26 judges have been confirmed, cutting the number of vacancies in half since the beginning of the administration. In that time, Democrats have used the filibuster to block only two controversial appeals court nominees, while a number of other nominees have been permitted a full floor vote in spite of intense opposition. Amidst the talk of crisis and a broken system, one important fact is being overlooked: there are currently only 45 vacancies in the federal judiciary, less than half of the 111 vacancies that existed when the Democrats took control of the Senate in July 2001. Sen. Patrick Leahy has noted that the vacancy rate on the federal judiciary is at its lowest level in 13 years and is now lower than the national unemployment rate.