Sustained Outrage

On Wednesday, in remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual awards gala, President Obama brought up Albert Diaz, his last remaining nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, citing the North Carolina judge as an example of how Republicans (specifically Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) have delayed confirmation votes for his nominees.

Here’s what the president said:

Right now, there are 21 judges who’ve been held up for months while their courts have sat empty.  Three of them are outstanding Latinos, like Judge Albert Diaz, who I nominated to the Fourth Circuit Court.  He’s been waiting for 10 months.  This is a widely respected state court judge, military judge, and Marine Corps attorney.  He was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee.  But just last month, the Senate Republican leader objected to a vote on his confirmation yet again.  And when he was asked why, he basically admitted it was simply partisan payback.  Partisan payback.

We can’t afford that kind of game-playing right now.  We need serious leaders for serious times.  That’s the kind of leadership this moment demands.  That is what we need right now.  Because when I get out of this town and I’m meeting with people, talking to folks, nobody is asking me, “Hey, Barack, which party is scoring more points?”  Nobody is saying, “Oh, don’t worry about us, I just want you to do what’s best for November.”

As I pointed out on Tuesday, some people are calling the current number of vacancies in the federal judiciary a crisis. Diaz, who was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, has now been waiting longer than any other judicial nominee still pending.

The president’s comments caught the attention of several media outlets, like the Legal Times, which labeled the 4th Circuit as the “new front in the battle over judges” in this blog post. took it even further, wondering if Obama’s lack of success in placing judges on the federal bench will erode his legislative accomplishments down the line:

Meanwhile, judicial experts see ominous signs for Obama’s accomplishments: Conservative activists already have gone to court to challenge legislative victories like health care reform. The lawsuits are being filed in courts with ideologically conservative judges — and with judicial vacancies that have gone unfilled.

“The risk is, if you ask what a president’s legacy is, one big piece is the policies he enacts; the other big piece is the people he leaves in positions of power behind him — and those are largely judges,” said Pamela Karlan, a legal scholar at Stanford Law School. “So if you want your policies to have staying power, you have to have a federal court that will sustain them.”

The story continues:

Republicans say that while the president chooses to highlight the case of Diaz — one of two pending nominees who passed out of the Judiciary Committee with a 19-0 vote — Democrats have no stomach to fight for nominees they expect to be more difficult to confirm.

“It’s interesting that Democrats — who schedule the votes and have a near supermajority — are saying that Republicans control the pace of confirmations in the Senate,” said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama. “It’s also worth noting that Democrats don’t want to discuss other circuit nominees from President Obama like Goodwin Liu and Bob Chatigny — perhaps because they don’t want to broadcast support for such highly controversial picks ahead of the election.”