- It's bad enough that there are 82 vacant federal judge slots around the country, a level so high that many observers have deemed it a crisis situation.
But perhaps even more startling is the fact that of those 82 vacant slots, 61 of them don't even have a nominee.
On its face, the absence of nominees would appear to be a sign that
President Barack Obama is slacking. After all, he is responsible for
nominating judges, and he did put forward fewer nominees
at the end of his first term than his two predecessors. But a closer
look at data on judicial nominees, and conversations with people
involved in the nomination process, reveals the bigger problem is
Republican senators quietly refusing to recommend potential judges in
the first place.
The process for moving judicial nominees is simple enough. A
president takes the lead on circuit court nominees, while, per
longstanding tradition, a senator kickstarts the process for district
court nominees, which make up the bulk of the federal court system.
Senators make recommendations from their home states, and the president
works with them to get at least some of the nominees confirmed -- the
idea being that senators, regardless of party, are motivated to advocate
for nominees from their states. The White House may look at other
nominees on its own, but typically won't move forward without input from
the corresponding senators. Once a nominee is submitted to the Senate,
he or she receives a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If
approved, the nomination heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.