White House changes tune on judge standoff, backs Senate Dems’ filibuster move

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Mr. Wheeler said Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees in his first term waited longer for hearings: 101 days on average for district judges (versus 84 for Mr. Obama and 63 for Mr. Clinton); and 220 days on average for circuit judges (versus 63 for Mr. Obama and 84 for Mr. Clinton).

The American Constitution Society said Mr. Obama “has maintained a somewhat lethargic pace of nominations throughout his presidency.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Senate Democrats engaged in “serial filibustering” of Mr. Bush’s appeals court nominees, including Miguel Estrada, whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was filibustered a record seven times.

Although there’s a long Senate tradition of filibustering legislation, before 2003, the procedural tactic was rarely used to block presidential nominations.

Democrats began using it for that purpose in earnest after they lost the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections, and control of the chamber switched back to Republicans. The case of Mr. Estrada was the most well-known example, but hardly the only one.

While raising money for Democrats in Texas earlier this month, Mr. Obama said his judicial nominees are important to bolster his agenda, referring to rulings “that ultimately are going to be made about women’s reproductive health, about how we treat our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

“Those are decisions that are going to be made based on my ability to nominate qualified candidates and make sure that we can get them through,” he said.

The president is making a concerted push to nominate more female, minority and gay jurists to the federal bench. Forty-two percent of Mr. Obama’s confirmed judges are women, compared with 29 percent for Mr. Clinton and 22 percent for Mr. Bush.

Eighteen percent of Mr. Obama’s judges are black, compared with 16 percent for Mr. Clinton and 7 percent for Mr. Bush. Mr. Obama also has increased the representation of Hispanics and Asians on the bench. There have been at least seven openly gay judges appointed by Mr. Obama.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond law school, said Democrats “have grown weary of the filibustering.”

“It’s been over four years of a 10 percent vacancy rate in the lower courts, and that just has to stop,” Mr. Tobias said.

He said an individual senator can still place a “hold” on a nominee, a tactic that Republicans might turn to more often.

“The home-state senators will still have that leverage,” he said.

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