Unions pressing for judges friendly to labor

Not satisfied with President Obama for appointing record numbers of gay, female and minority judges, liberal groups and labor unions are now pressuring the president to nominate more jurists who have backgrounds working for unions and public-interest organizations.

The Alliance for Justice, a coalition of more than 100 liberal groups, is lobbying the White House to “broaden the bench” with more judicial nominees who represent what it calls “professional diversity” — judges who are more likely to be aligned with the coalition’s liberal agenda.

“We face a federal bench that has a striking lack of diversity,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said at an alliance event in Washington last week. She said Mr. Obama’s nominees have been “largely in line” with the professional backgrounds of previous presidents’ judicial candidates.

Although Mr. Obama has surpassed his predecessors in diversifying the federal bench along racial and gender lines, his liberal critics say he has selected too many candidates who have worked either as corporate lawyers or federal prosecutors.

The latest campaign is aimed at installing more judges who have served as public defenders, civil rights advocates and personal injury lawyers.

The alliance said in a report that 85 percent of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees have worked as corporate lawyers or prosecutors. Less than 4 percent “have significant experience representing workers in labor and employment disputes,” the group said.

Four of the top 10 political donor groups in this year’s campaign cycle are labor unions, and roughly 90 percent of their $9 million in contributions go to Democratic candidates, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2012 presidential race, single-issue groups donated more than $31 million, 55 percent of contributions, to Mr. Obama’s campaign.

Politics and judges

Conservatives say it’s the latest partisan campaign to mold the federal courts, where appointments are lifetime jobs.

“These groups are scrambling for a new way to pack the courts,” said Andrew Kloster, an analyst on the federal courts at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Just having diversity of skin color or gender isn’t enough to get what these liberal groups are really after, which is a certain type of political agenda.”

The White House said Mr. Obama has an unequaled record on the diversity of his judicial nominees when considering race, gender and sexual orientation. A slate of judges he nominated last week includes Darrin Gayles, a state circuit court judge in Florida, who would become the first openly gay black man on the federal bench.

The administration also said that of the 64 judicial nominees awaiting Senate confirmation, 27 are women, 12 are black, five are Hispanic, four are Asian-American, three are gay and one is American Indian. They represent “an unprecedented commitment to expanding the gender, racial, sexual orientation, and experiential diversity of the men and women who enforce our laws and deliver justice,” the White House said.

The liberal groups are making their push less than three months after Senate Democrats, at the president’s urging, eliminated the filibuster for blocking presidential nominations. The move did enable Mr. Obama to get seven more judges confirmed late last year, but only one judge has been confirmed since Jan. 1. There are 96 vacancies on the federal bench, representing about 12 percent of the overall seats.

Racing the clock?

Some observers say it’s no accident that the heightened campaign for more judges who may be sympathetic to a liberal agenda is coming ahead of the midterm elections, when Republicans have a good chance of winning back the Senate.

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