New leadership takes over this week in President Barack Obama’s legal shop, and among the challenges facing incoming White House Counsel Robert Bauer is how to reinvigorate the administration’s efforts to shape the federal judiciary.

The U.S. Senate ended the year having confirmed three nominees to federal circuit courts, half as many as were confirmed during President George W. Bush’s first year. Among nominees for district court judgeships, the difference is even more stark — nine won confirmation during 2009 compared with 22 during 2001. Six circuit nominees and four district nominees have passed through committee but not received a vote in the full Senate.

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