Republicans prepare to clash with Obama over court ‘packing’

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The battle over judges is being renewed as Mr. Obama hopes to improve on his first-term record of confirmations, which ranks fourth on a percentage basis out of the past five presidencies. Only President George H.W. Bush had a lower confirmation average on his nominees. A report this month by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that Mr. Obama had the second-lowest percentage of circuit court nominees confirmed in his first term, 71.4 percent. President Reagan had the highest percentage, 86.8 percent.

Among the past five presidents during their first terms, Mr. Obama also was tied with President Clinton for the lowest number of circuit nominees confirmed with 30. Mr. Bush had the most, 42.

Court vacancies have risen during Mr. Obama’s presidency. He inherited 13 circuit court vacancies in 2009; that number rose to 17 by the end of his first term. There were 42 district court vacancies when President George W. Bush left office in 2009; that figure increased to 64 at the end of Mr. Obama’s first term.

GOP pushback

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Republicans are treating Mr. Obama’s nominees more fairly than Senate Democrats treated candidates nominated by George W. Bush. He said 22 judges have been confirmed in the first four months of Mr. Obama’s second term, while only four judges were confirmed during the same time period in 2005, the beginning of Mr. Bush’s second term.

“Based on that record, what can the Senate Democrats possibly complain about?” Mr. Grassley asked. “The bottom line is they can’t complain — or they shouldn’t complain.”

The Congressional Research Service report says Mr. Obama was slower than his predecessors in nominating judges, especially in the first three years of his first term. But the report also noted that Mr. Obama’s nominees have waited longer than those of other presidents for a vote.

“President Obama is the only one of the five most recent presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year,” the report said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Republican lawmakers are engaged in a deliberate stalling of the nominations process, if not often rejecting nominees outright.

“Republican obstruction has slowed down nearly every nominee President Obama has submitted,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “Even Cabinet secretaries have faced unparalleled procedural hurdles, and Republicans are threatening to block many more of them. The confirmation process has moved at a glacial pace because of extraordinary Republican obstruction.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the GOP has been “operating in a very collegial and sensible way,” while fulfilling its constitutional duty to weigh Mr. Obama’s selections.

“I don’t know what the majority leader thinks ‘advise and consent’ means,” Mr. McConnell said. “Listening to him it means: ‘Sit down, shut up, don’t ask any questions, and confirm immediately.’ I don’t think that is what the Founding Fathers had in mind.”

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