The Senate confirmed two more district judges December 11, as the chamber’s Republicans appear more open to whittling down the backlog of non-controversial federal district court judicial nominees who have been awaiting votes for months.

The Senate voted 95-0 to confirm John Dowdell for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and approved Jesus Bernal for the Central District of California with a voice vote. The candidates had waited for confirmation votes from the full Senate since the Senate Judiciary Committee approved them with a voice vote in June and July, respectively.

Bernal, currently chief of trials for the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Los Angeles, will fill a vacancy created three years ago with the resignation of Stephen Larson, one of 34 vacancies that have been deemed judicial emergencies throughout the country. Dowdell, a Tulsa attorney, will fill a vacancy created nearly two years ago when Terrence Kern took senior status.

Six district court judges have now been confirmed during the lame duck session, a faster pace than the two-per-week agreement reached among Senate leaders in March that ended months of partisan recrimination and allowed 14 confirmations before summer.

But the new pace hasn’t satisfied Democrats and outside interest groups, who pointed out that it has been six months since a circuit judge confirmation.

There are still 17 nominees, including four for circuit courts, who have been approved by the judiciary committee and await votes before the full Senate, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “These confirmations today will demonstrate that there was no good reason for the delay — just more partisan delay for delay’s sake,” Leahy said in a statement.

Bernal’s confirmation fills one of 34 emergency vacancies throughout the country. The four circuit court nominees have been pending as far back as March, Leahy said, and two of those, William Kayatta of Maine and Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, have the support of their Republican home state Senators.

People For the American Way, a progressive group watching judicial confirmations, detailed the wait for circuit court nominees on its blog yesterday.

“The four circuit court nominees have been waiting for a yes-or-no vote longer than anyone else, and this delay serves only to harm the American people,” PFAW wrote. “More than 10 [percent] of all circuit court judgeships are vacant or soon to become vacant. Given this vacancy crisis, and with nominees like these four, it is inexcusable for Senate Republicans to allow half a year to go by without lifting their blockade on circuit court judges.”

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