Obama getting fewer judges confirmed than Nixon
“We can’t confirm what’s not there,” Mr. Stewart said.
But Republican senators have forced postponements of hearings and votes in the Judiciary Committee and used their power under the chamber’s rules to block any easy route to full Senate votes.
Persistent resistance by the opposition to a president’s appeals court nominees reaches back to President Bill Clinton’s administration and a Senate controlled by Republicans for six of Mr. Clinton’s eight years.
Mr. Wheeler said the Republicans now are delaying votes on district court nominees, too. And in one instance, Republicans for months even blocked confirmation of openly gay Marisa Demeo to be a local trial judge in the nation’s capital. The Senate confirms District of Columbia judges because the city is a federal enclave.
Republican objections to Mr. Obama’s nominees, however, are not primarily rooted in the candidates’ ideology. With a couple of exceptions, the president has nominated moderates who receive overwhelming, sometimes unanimous, support once they get a vote.
The Obama nominees so far have not excited progressive groups that once hoped a Democratic administration combined with a large Democratic Senate majority would remake the federal courts.
When Mr. Bush left office, Republicans had appointed just under 60 percent of all federal judges. Twenty months later, the number has dipped only slightly to a shade under 59 percent, according to statistics compiled by the liberal Alliance for Justice. Because of retirements, the percentage of Republican-nominated district judges actually has gone up.
The president has had some successes, notably changing the composition of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which had been dominated by conservatives chosen by Republican presidents.
His nominees also have been diverse: Just under half are women, one-quarter are black, 12 percent are Asian-American and 7 percent are Hispanic.
Mr. Obama also filled two Supreme Court vacancies. The confirmations of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan took considerable time, although they do not completely explain the initially slow rollout of judicial nominees.
Even now, Mr. Obama has nominated roughly 40 fewer people for judgeships than either Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton at this point.
The smaller number of nominees has been a surprise because Mr. Obama once taught constitutional law and installed a team with vast experience nominating and confirming judges.
“It seems like it has not been a priority,” said Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. “It’s been surprising because he’s a constitutional lawyer, he knows how courts work, how important they are. It seemed like an easy bone to throw to his base to make a mark, a lasting mark.”