Right-wing radio host Glenn Beck absurdly claimed during his radio program Thursday that former President Barack Obama had left 1,500 judicial vacancies empty at the end of his presidency because he just didn’t care enough to bother filling them.
Beck said that Democrats are only contemplating the possibility of expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court because President Donald Trump has been so successful in packing the lower courts with his judges. But, Beck said, that is largely Obama’s fault for leaving so many vacancies for Trump to fill.
“Barack Obama left, what was it? Fifteen hundred judgeships open? It was some ungodly sum that he just didn’t care, he just didn’t appoint them,” Beck said. “So Donald Trump, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, they got together and they have filled all of those. And he’s still filling them. That’s not packing, that’s just not leaving it empty. Your job as president is to appoint judges to lower courts and to the higher court. That’s a consequence of an election. Barack Obama left all those judgeships open. I guess he shouldn’t have. It was his choice.”
Literally everything Beck said is wrong.
First of all, there are only 890 federal judgeships, making it a little difficult for Obama to have left 1,500 vacancies.
When Obama left office, there were 105 judgeships vacant because Senate Republicans had engaged in an unprecedented obstruction campaign against his nominees, especially during the final two years of his term.
The 114th’s record pales when compared to the final two years of the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations. Then, as in 2015-16, the other party controlled the Senate. The 114th Senate both confirmed far fewer judges than its recent other-party predecessors and stopped confirming them at a much earlier point. Some of the 2016 vacancies Trump inherited occurred after any confirmation clock would have stopped. Still, of the 21 circuit vacancies he’s filled as of late May and others he soon will, up to seven could have had Obama appointees under pre-2015 norms. So too, up to 71 of the district vacancies he inherited and has only begun to fill could have had Obama appointees.
According to the Congressional Research Service, over 70 percent of Obama’s judicial nominees were returned at the end of the 114th Congress, having never received a vote from the Republican-controlled Senate. So, it was not that “Obama left all those judgeships open,” as Beck claimed, but rather that Senate Republicans systematically and intentionally refused to confirm his nominees.
In fact, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is so proud of this fact that he openly brags about it. As Right Wing Watch reported in 2019:
Some of the loudest cheers went for the smugly self-satisfied Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Reed introduced as a “total hero” for blocking Senate consideration of President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland—and for using the power of his office to ram Trump’s judicial nominees through the Senate.
McConnell bragged about having done the opposite under President Obama, slowing Senate action to ensure that Obama’s successor would come into office with plenty of vacancies: “There were a lot of vacancies left when President Obama left office. I was the majority leader the last couple of years he was president,” he said, pausing for comic effect before adding to laughter and applause, “We didn’t have a lot of time.”
McConnell said that about one-fourth of U.S. circuit judges serving on the bench today comprises Trump nominees who were confirmed by the Senate in the past two-and-a-half years, and celebrated that Trump’s nominees are years younger, on average, than Obama’s nominees.