The Senate finally confirmed federal judge Robert Wilkins, the third of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court on Monday, giving this court its full complement of 11 judges for the first time in two decades.
The D.C. Circuit is the second highest court of the land both in the scope and importance of the cases it considers, and because it is often the court from which Supreme Court Justices are selected. It considers key challenges to how the federal government works, with the responsibility of directly reviewing the decisions and rulemaking of federal agencies and actions by the executive. A key recent example is the Court's decision to strike President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Supreme Court heard the government's appeal of this ruling Monday. So having a full complement of judges, and a 7-4 majority of Democratic appointees, is hugely important.
The court is complete now, of course, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats who voted with him to end the filibuster on all nominations except to the Supreme Court. And Judge Robert Wilkins, the 41st African-American judge President Obama has put on the bench, and reflect of his efforts to diversify the federal judiciary.
Please read below the fold for more on Obama's nominations.
Obama has nominated, and the Senate has confirmed, more women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and openly gay judges than any other president.Whether that actually happens depends a lot on how the Senate Judiciary Committee proceeds in the next three years. Obama has also been forced to withdraw a number of nominees—women, African-Americans, and gay nominees—because of Republican obstruction. Most recently, he withdrew the nomination of William Thomas to a federal court in Florida because Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who originally supported Thomas, a gay African-American, reversed course. Republican obstruction is also leading Obama to nominate conservative judges to try to get Republican support. It's actually pitted civil right leaders against the president in the case of Georgia, where his nominees have extremely conservative records on critical issues like abortion and voting rights. That certainly won't do much to burnish President Obama's legacy.
The Senate has confirmed 93 women to the bench during Obama’s tenure, compared with 71 during George W. Bush’s full two terms. Bill Clinton got the first and only openly gay judge confirmed before 2009. Obama’s gotten seven confirmed so far. [...]
“The reality is they started slowly on judicial nominations, which had he not been reelected would have created a real problem,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
A year later, the situation looks very different, Leahy said. “When President Obama finishes his term, here’s what’s going to be important: He will leave a federal judiciary more diverse — gender, racial — than it ever has been.”
That could end if both Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee, and President Obama end the courtesy to Republican senators of "blue slips," the tradition by which senators sign off on nominees in their home states. Blue slips aren't a Senate rule, but a tradition. The previous Republican chair of the committee, Orrin Hatch, ignored blue slips. Sen. Leahy could do the same, and Obama could then truly leave a legacy of a diverse, forward-looking judiciary.