The former George W. Bush administration official who founded a group to push for the confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees has come up with the most ridiculous justification yet for a possible Republican filibuster of President Obama’s three nominees to vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In a Washington Times column today, C. Boyden Gray argues that Obama’s filling all the seats on the court is in fact a “drive to pack” the court and would “risk politicizing an institution that is – and should be – above politics” and lead to a loss of “collegiality” among the judges on the court.
Gray’s concern for the independence of the judiciary is admirable, but it’s interesting that he seems to have developed this concern only when a Democratic president started nominating judges.
In fact, Gray seems to have held the opposite view of what to do with the D.C. Circuit during the George W. Bush administration, when he founded and led an organization dedicated to getting President Bush’s most conservative nominees confirmed to the federal courts. Among the nominees Gray worked to confirm were current D.C. Circuit judges Thomas Griffith, Brett Kavanaugh and Janice Rogers Brown, who have given the court a serious right-wing ideological bent, and now- Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. In total, thanks in part to Gray, Bush had four nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, filling all eleven of the twelve seats then available.
In contrast, President Obama has had just one nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in his five years in office, bringing the total number of judges on the court up to eight out of eleven designated seats. This puts him far behind all of his recent predecessors in placing judges on the court. In fact, every president since Jimmy Carter, going through the process laid out in the Constitution, has had at least three nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit.
So, why does Gray think President Obama’s nominees would so unbalance the careful social order of the court? He cites the effort that Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter nominee, made in the mid-1990s to get judges on the court to work together across ideological lines, and Judge Edwards’ observation that “smaller courts tend to be more collegial.” Which is a great argument for confirming judges who are skilled at working across ideological lines (for instance, Nina Pillard) but makes no sense as an argument simply not to let a given president fill seats on the court.
In the column, Gray also backs Chuck Grassley’s effort to eliminate the three D.C. Circuit seats to prevent President Obama from filling them and transfer two to other, less influential, circuits – a plan that has no backing in actual caseload data.
If these are the logic-jumping lengths that conservatives have to go to justify their all-out obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, maybe it’s time they just gave up and admitted that they just don’t want to let President Obama do his job.