It Takes Forever To Confirm Federal Judges These Days: Proof in a Chart

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Sept. 27 2012 4:11 PM

The 200-Day Club

That’s how long uncontroversial nominees are waiting to join the federal bench.

Just how long does it take to get onto the federal bench these days? The molasses pace of the judicial confirmation process during the Obama presidency has been apparent. But now the Congressional Research Service has crunched the numbers and found clear proof that Senate Republicans are engaging in an unprecedented form of obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees. The Republicans are holding even the most uncontroversial nominees hostage, in an effort to leave as many seats as possible open for a future Republican president to fill. In short, the uncontroversial nominees are pawns in a fight over the future of the federal judiciary.

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CRS defines an uncontroversial nominee as one with little or no opposition when votes are actually cast in the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. This definition isn’t perfect, because it allows senators to manufacture a “controversy” simply by voting against a nominee, and some Republicans have now taken to voting against every Obama nominee, no matter what. But the CRS numbers are still striking.  

The gist is this: The average confirmation time for uncontroversial circuit court nominees rose from 64.5 days under Reagan to 227.3 days under Obama. There simply are no Obama appeals court nominees who make it through the confirmation process in 100 days or less—whereas nearly 30 percent of President George W. Bush’s nominees sped through in that amount of time. Similarly, the average waiting time for uncontroversial district court nominees increased from 69.9 days under Reagan to 204.8 days under President Obama. And the number of district court nominees who wait more than 200 days has doubled from George W.’s time to Obama’s.

The slowdown is bad because it surely means that some of the best judicial candidates decide not to put themselves through this stalled process. It also leaves unfilled vacancies that the judiciary has declared “emergencies” because of the heavy workload facing the sitting judges on those courts. Our federal judiciary, and the people it serves, deserve far better.

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Doug Kendall is president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a think tank, law firm, and action center dedicated to the progressive promise of the Constitution's text and history.