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Obama Renominates More Than 40 Judicial Candidates

The Huffington Post

Jan 5, 2011

By Sam Stein

WASHINGTON -- Faced with the prospect of increasingly lengthy court vacancies, the White House on Wednesday formally renominated more than 40 judicial candidates whose possible appointments were left in limbo during the last congressional session.

The Obama administration sent the dozens of nominations -- 23 of which an official categorized as "emergency" nominees -- back to the Senate, where they will be considered anew by the Judiciary Committee. They may face an additional round of committee hearings, a Senate aide said, but that will be determined by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the ranking Republican, likely to be, according to a Senate aide, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Hearings or no, the committee will have to vote on each candidate again before sending them back to the Senate floor for final consideration. And with more Republicans in the chamber than there were for the past two years, the nominees' chances may be slimmer.

Among those nominated again include 18 who had previously cleared the committee but were not confirmed by the Senate at large. That list includes contested figures like University of California law professor Goodwin Liu, Obama's nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as California magistrate judge Edward Chen, nominated for the District Court for the Northern District of California. Twenty-four other renominated candidates never got a committee vote.

Judge Robert Chatigny, who Obama nominated for a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals but had been held up over his positions on judicial restraint and sexual offenders, was not sent back to the Senate for consideration.

During his first two years in office, Obama had 62 judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate, compared to 100 for George W. Bush during the first congressional session of his presidency.

Democratic activists have categorized this disparity as a veritable crisis for the Obama administration, given the plethora of key issues working their way through the courts, including the president's health care law, Arizona's immigration reform measures, gay rights and gun control policy, among others. Those renominated had spent a combined 1,762 days awaiting consideration from the Senate during the last two years, according to a fact sheet sent by an administration official to The Huffington Post.

Even conservative legal luminaries have pushed to speed up the process. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts recently criticized the slow pace of judicial confirmations.

"[T]he unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations seen in the last Congress, and the dramatic departure from the Senate's longstanding tradition of regularly considering consensus, noncontroversial nominations, marked a new chapter in what Chief Justice Roberts calls the 'persistent problem' of filling judicial vacancies," Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a statement.

With this as a backdrop, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on Wednesday that they had agreed to establish a joint working group to study the issue of judicial confirmations, Roll Call reported.

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