Although President Obama supported Senate Democrats’ move Thursday to end what he called “reckless” Republican filibustering of his nominees, Mr. Obama told liberal supporters just two weeks ago that he was pleased with his record of judicial confirmations.
At a big-money fundraiser Nov. 6 in Dallas to benefit Democratic Senate candidates, Mr. Obama boasted to donors that his administration was making great progress in molding the federal courts to his philosophy.
“We are remaking the courts,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re actually, when it comes to the district court, matching the pace of previous presidents. When it comes to the appellate court, we’re just a little bit behind, and we’re just going to keep on focused on it.”
On Thursday, Mr. Obama backed Senate Democrats’ ending the use of filibusters on nominees, saying “today’s level of obstruction just isn’t normal.”
“This isn’t obstruction on substance, on qualifications,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s just to gum up the works.”
The president noted that both he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden are former senators, saying they value the Senate’s role of “advise and consent” on presidential nominations. But Mr. Obama neglected to mention that, as a senator in 2006, he supported an unsuccessful filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. He also participated in several other filibusters of judicial nominations by Republican President George W. Bush.
When majority Republicans threatened in 2005 to end the use of filibusters on nominations, then-Sen. Obama warned that the move would create more gridlock.
“Everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse,” Mr. Obama said on April 13, 2005.
Partisans on both sides often “cherry pick” statistics about judicial confirmations to prove the other side is being unfair, as Mr. Obama did Thursday by saying that his nominees have waited on average 2.5 times longer for a confirmation vote than Mr. Bush’s nominees. But independent studies have shown that Mr. Obama’s record on judicial nominees is roughly comparable to both Mr. Bush and President Clinton.
The Senate had confirmed 71 percent of Mr. Obama’s nominees for federal appeals courts through Nov. 12. At the same point in the second term of President Clinton, the Senate had confirmed 68 percent of his appellate nominations. For George W. Bush, the figure was 81 percent, according to the American Constitution Society.
The Congressional Research Service reported in May that Mr. Obama’s first-term district court nominees were confirmed at a rate of 83 percent. That compared with 95 percent for Mr. Bush, 86 percent for Mr. Clinton and 77 percent for President George H.W. Bush.
A study by Russell Wheeler of the left-leaning Brookings Institution at the end of Mr. Obama’s first term also found that the president was slower than his predecessors in sending nominations to the Senate to fill judicial vacancies.
“By the end of their second years, Clinton and Bush had submitted over half their nominees (60 and 55 percent, respectively); Obama had submitted 46 percent of his,” Mr. Wheeler said. “By the end of their third years, Clinton and Bush had submitted over 90 percent of their nominees, Obama slightly more than three-fourths.”