Obama Can't Get Any Judges Confirmed, But He's Not Exactly Trying Very Hard


If you desperately need to get somewhere very quickly, but your car stalls and won't restart, you have get out, find another way forward, and worry about fixing the car later.

So, when President Obama only has less than half of his time in office left with innumerable policy goals left, and Congress breaks down over spending for at least the next six months, he has to find another way forward, too. That way forward is through executive action.

The problem is, he can't move forward through executive action while the federal courts are leaning Republican. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for example, has only three Democrats for its four Republicans. That court is the second-most powerful court in the world, with complete control over the president's labor and environmental agendas.

The good news for the administration is that there are four vacancies on that court, as well as many more vacancies in Federal courts around the country. The president has already nominated an Indian-American lawyer named Sri Srinivasan to fill one of those vacancies, but that appointment and 15 more are waiting on the Senate for confirmation.

So, calling a taxi when your car breaks down apparently requires you to restart your car. I guess the metaphor kind of breaks down at that point. Never mind. Those checks and balances things really get in the way sometimes, don't they?

President Obama's best chance now is to continue playing the gridlock card to its fullest to shame the Senate into confirming his nominations. Unfortunately for him, the Obama administration has given the Senate Republicans plenty of ammunition to fire back, in the form of being incredibly slow at submitting nominations.

Obama has made fewer nominations to district courts than either of his direct predecessors in the same amount of time. Though many of his nominations are being held up in the Senate, many more vacant spots go without nominations at all.

On the other hand, Obama's nominations have included more women, more open gays, more Hispanics, and more Asians than have ever sat the bench in this country.  As White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler explained: "The president wants the federal courts to look like America." And it is true that the courts are starting to better reflect the U.S. population demographics under this administration.

What effect will a more diverse court system have, and is it worth the slow speed of nominations and confirmations plaguing the administration? Appointing more minorities and women can better ensure fair decisions by the courts regarding civil rights, but if those diversity qualifications begin to outweigh experience and skill qualifications, it may not be as beneficial.

Regardless, if President Obama wants to get where he wants to go any time fast, he had better start running. Those judges aren't going to nominate themselves.