People For the American Way

Republican Obstruction Impedes Efforts to Diversify the Federal Bench

Senate Republicans’ ongoing obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees is having a disproportionate impact on those who are women and people of color. A remarkable 64% of federal judges nominated by Obama are women and people of color, a rate that is double that of George W. Bush.

We often talk about the large number of nominees (currently 16) who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and have been waiting for a vote on the Senate floor. But there are also 19 nominees who are still being considered by the committee, and with more than four months before the election, there is more than enough time to hold confirmation votes on all of them.

This group of 19 exemplify the president’s commitment to diversity: Twelve of them are women or people of color. Lorna Schofield could become the first person of Filipino descent to serve as an Article III judge in American history; her committee vote was scheduled for yesterday but got sidetracked due to the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision. U.S. Magistrate Fernando Olguin, a former education program director at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college; he testified before the Judiciary Committee earlier this week and is now awaiting a vote. Troy Nunley, who was born in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point housing projects, has been a Sacramento County Superior Court judge for the past decade; he was nominated last week to fill a vacancy in the Eastern District of California.

Unfortunately, several qualified nominees have fallen victim to Republican obstruction via abuse of the "blue slip" system, in which the committee will take no action on a nomination unless the nominee’s home state senators consent. Incredibly, of the four nominees with "blue slip" problems, all four are women:

  • Shelly Dick – blocked by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter
  • Rosemary Márquez – blocked by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl
  • Elissa Cadish – blocked by Nevada Sen. Dean Heller
  • Jill Pryor – blocked by Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson

Among the nominees now pending on the floor, all three who were subject to a party-line vote are women or people of color:

  • Patty Shwartz – woman nominee for the Third Circuit
  • Gershwin Drain – African American district court nominee from Michigan
  • Brian Davis – African American district court nominee from Florida

President Obama’s efforts to end the judicial vacancy crisis and place a diverse, highly qualified group of jurists in our nation’s courtrooms have been stymied from day one by Senate Republicans. Every person he has nominated deserves a yes-or-no vote before Election Day.


Brian Davis, David Vitter, dean heller, elissa cadish, Fernando Olguin, Gershwin Drain, Jill Pryor, John McCain, Johnny Isakson, Jon Kyl, judges, judicial nominations, Lorna Schofield, Lower Federal Courts, MALDEF, Obstruction, Obstructionism, Patty Shwartz, rosemary marquez, Saxby Chambliss, Shelly D. Dick, Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Troy Nunley