This just in: the Senate Judiciary Committee announced today that 12 judicial nominees are on the agenda for the committee’s next business meeting on Nov. 18. It also scheduled a separate hearing for Nov. 17 that includes a panel of four judicial candidates who have not yet appeared before the committee.
Assuming the committee approves all 12 nominees on Thursday — and that’s a pretty big assumption — that would put the number of nominees for circuit courts awaiting full senate approval at 9 (for 20 vacancies) and for district courts at 25 (for 86 vacancies). Let’s not forget that 50 of those 106 vacancies have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Of course, there are no consent agreements on Friday’s Senate agenda, so no movement yet on actually confirming any of the pending nominees during the so-called lame-duck session before the 112th Congress takes office in January. The Alliance for Justice has urged the full Senate to take up the nominations that have passed out of the Judiciary Committee during the lame-duck session:
In addition to being desperately needed and largely uncontroversial, these nominees represent the hope of creating a federal judiciary that is representative of our nation’s demographic diversity. Thirteen of the pending nominees are people of color and 10 are women. Many would be historic “firsts” in their respective courts if confirmed to the bench.
Though these nominees have been awaiting votes for far too long, lame-duck sessions have frequently been an occasion when judicial nominees are approved. For instance, during the 2002 lame-duck session in a closely split Senate, President George W. Bush had 20 nominees confirmed, all but one on a voice vote, including controversial circuit court nominee Michael McConnell.
According to AFJ President Nan Aron, “These historic levels of obstruction have serious consequences for American courts. The Senate needs to put aside partisan rancor, perform the task the Constitution has assigned to it, and confirm these qualified, diverse judges to the federal bench. It would be an unforgiveable tragedy if obstructionism during the lame-duck Congress helped create a lame-duck judiciary.”