The flood of judicial nominations that have come from the White House in recent months, including the three just made for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, could forecast a change in the focus of President Obama’s second term — his first having been notable for its dearth of judicial confirmations.
The Eastern District nominations address only half of the shortfall in commissioned judges in the district and observers of federal judicial selection could not say how fast confirmation from the U.S. Senate could be.
Thursday could bring an indication about the pace of confirmations in the upcoming session of the U.S. Senate, as the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to have an executive business meeting during which some nominees could be discussed.
But since Obama sent the Eastern District nominations to the Senate on Tuesday, they likely won’t be considered by the committee until the next session, which begins on January 3.
The three remaining vacancies, which sprang up over the course of the last year, are still open and J. Curtis Joyner, chief judge of the Eastern District, expects another two or three seats to open next year as more judges become eligible to take senior status.
On the recommendation of Pennsylvania’s senators, Obama nominated Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Nitza Quinones Alejandro, U.S. Magistrate Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo and Berks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Schmehl.
“Nothing’s done till it’s done,” Joyner said, stressing that the court still has six vacant seats until the nominees are confirmed. And, he said of the nominations, “It’s been a long time coming.”
One of the judgeships has been open for three-and-a-half years and another for two-and-a-half years.
Two seats that sat open for roughly as long in the Middle District got nominations in May, but neither has yet been confirmed.
According to a report issued last week by the Alliance for Justice, a progressive advocacy group in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate has confirmed a lower percentage of Obama’s nominees than it did for either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.
“This discrepancy is largely due to the comparatively harsh treatment of the president’s district court nominees,” according to the report, titled “The State of the Judiciary — Unfinished Business: Judicial Selection During the Remainder of the Obama Presidency.”
“This new and dangerous escalation in the judicial confirmation battles largely stems from Republican senators’ willingness to extend tactics and scrutiny previously reserved for circuit court nominees to district court nominees,” the report says.”
Read more about it in Thursday’s Legal.