It’s well known that the Senate GOP has been stalling President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland for months in the hope that Donald Trump will win the presidential election and eventually fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. This dynamic is playing out in the lower federal courts as well, as Senate Republicans stall confirmation proceedings in an apparent effort to leave as many vacancies as possible for a potential President Trump to fill.
People for the American Way’s Paul Gordon has crunched the numbers and reports in a memo today that by stalling district and appeals court nominations, Senate Republicans are leaving far more lower court vacancies at the end of President Obama’s term in office than Democrats did at the end of President Bush’s.
Gordon reports that there are 87 current circuit and district vacancies in the federal courts today, more than double the number that there were at the beginning of the year. Contrast that with the number of vacancies during the final two years of Bush’s presidency:
Gordon notes that these vacancies do not exist because of a lack of nominees:
Now, in September of 2016, Republicans have an opportunity and a responsibility to fill dozens of vacancies. In addition to Merrick Garland, there are 29 circuit and district court nominees still bottled up in the Judiciary Committee. Only six of them have even had hearings, let alone a committee vote; two of the nominees (both from Pennsylvania) had their committee hearings last year, but Grassley still has not brought them up for a vote.
In addition, there are 20 circuit and district court nominees who have been vetted and approved by Judiciary Committee and who could — and should — have confirmation votes as soon as the Senate returns to Washington. More than a third of these have been pending on the floor for more than six months, including four who advanced from committee back in 2015.
The fact that the Senate GOP is deliberately slow-walking President Obama’s nominees in the final year of his term in office is an open secret. A top anti-abortion lobbyist said this summer that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have “moved with very deliberate speed on those nominations and it’s safe to predict that there will be quite a number of vacant seats on the federal courts, including that Supreme Court vacancy, when the election rolls around.”
“There certainly would be a lot more Obama-nominated federal judges if the Senate had remained in Democrat hands,” he added.