By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the unprecedented levels of obstruction from Republicans in the Senate, President Obama has managed to get a higher rate of Black judges confirmed than any other president in history, according to a court watchdog group.
Research compiled by the Alliance for Justice, a national organization dedicated to progressive values and the creation of a just and free society, shows that so far during the Obama administration, Blacks have accounted for 18.7 percent of the federal judicial confirmations, a sharp increase over the George W. Bush administration, where 7.3 percent of the judicial confirmations were Black. During the Clinton administration, 16.4 percent of the federal judicial confirmations were African American.
During the Obama administration, 41 percent of the federal judges that have been confirmed are women, compared to 22 percent under George W. Bush and 29 percent for Clinton.
President Obama has also managed to get more Asian Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and gays confirmed to the federal bench than either Bush or Clinton.
“This is the best slate of judicial nominees I’ve seen from any president since I’ve been at the Lawyers’ Committee, since 1989,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit group that works for equal justice under the law. “I’ve never seen a more diverse slate, I’ve never seen a more highly-rated slate, I’ve never seen a slate with this kind of deep diversity.”
Yet, the current slate of judicial nominees has faced unparalleled delays in the Senate. President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited an average of 115 days between judiciary committee vote and confirmation, more than double the average wait time of President Bush’s nominees. Forty percent of President Obama’s district court picks have waited more than 100 days for a vote on the Senate floor, compared to 8 percent of President Bush’s nominations. Sixty-nine percent of President Obama’s circuit court judicial nominations have waited more than 100 days for a vote on the Senate floor. Only 15 percent of President Bush’s circuit court nominations waited that long.
Meanwhile, the problem of judicial vacancies is getting worse. During President George W. Bush’s sixth year, there were only 48 judicial vacancies. By 2013, however, there were 91 vacancies.
The slow churn in the Senate’s judicial confirmation process continues to strain resources. By 2010, civil litigants were waiting more than two years (25.3 months) for a jury trial. That same year, the federal government spent $1.4 billion to house prisoners before the start of their trial, due in part to the lack of judges to hear cases, according to the Justice Department.
“It’s been a countdown process since the president took office. They were counting down his first [term] in hopes that he wouldn’t have a second [term]. Now they’re counting down his second [term] because they know he can’t run again,” said Arnwine. “And that’s the game they’ve been playing.”
Arnwine added: “This political gaming results in damage to the American public.”
Senate Republicans are gamming the judicial nomination process, utilizing a tradition that began nearly 60 years ago, when a segregationist led the Senate Judiciary Committee. The “blue slip” policy enabled a senator’s objection to a president’s judicial pick from his or her home state.
GOP Senators from Georgia have used the “blue slip” practice to delay some of President Obama’s nominees for Georgia’s northern district for years.
In an effort to fill those judicial vacancies in Georgia’s northern district, President Obama worked with Republican Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, striking a deal that has drawn sharp criticism from some of President Obama’s long-time supporters and Democrats from the state.
According to Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) and other Democrats who objected to President Obama’s judicial selections for the northern Georgia district, a deal was struck without consulting with civic groups that normally vet judicial nominees in that state.
Scott expressed his concerns about the nominees in a recent letter to Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Scott wrote: “If confirmed, the federal bench in Georgia will not reflect the current demographics of the state for at least another generation. There will soon be only one active African-American district court judge in Georgia. In addition, the views of some of these nominees reflect the regressive politics of the past. I want to share some very important and critical background information with the Committee before these nominations are considered.”
Scott added: “It is an abomination that these nominees for lifetime appointment were drafted in secret, not vetted by any legal groups among the President’s supporters, and announced on a holiday weekend. We must not allow lifetime appointed judges to be rammed through the hearing process without sufficient input from the people who will be affected by their future judicial actions.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) Lewis, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a former Atlanta-based civil rights group, said he and other Black leaders object to some of Obama’s appointments of federal judges in Georgia.
“The group cites serious concerns that the proposed candidates do not adequately reflect the diversity of the northern district and that the selection process lacked meaningful community input,” Lewis said in a statement. “Additionally, the coalition finds it troubling that several nominees include persons who have advocated in favor of Georgia’s voter ID laws and for including the Confederate Battle Emblem as part of the Georgia State Flag.”
Mark Cohen defended Georgia’s restrictive voter ID laws that some civil rights leaders say discriminate against the poor and minorities. As a Georgia state legislator, Michael Boggs voted in favor of keeping the Georgia state flag that was based on the Confederate flag.
Georgia’s Black population is 31 percent, twice the national average. In Alabama Blacks account for nearly 27 percent of the state’s population and roughly 17 percent of Florida’s state population. Only one of the judges currently serving on the 11th circuit court responsible for those states is Black and only one out of six of President Obama’s nominees for that circuit is Black.
After years of blocked nominations and procedural delays employed by the Republicans, who are in the minority in the Senate, Democrats, headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed the button on the “nuclear option” last November that that allowed them to cease debate on a particular issue with a simple majority. The historic move cleared the way for some of President Obama’s judicial nominations and executive-level positions to be confirmed.
“The [Obama] administration has really had a difficult row to hoe because of the difficulties in the Senate,” said Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Senate has accorded this president less respect, less deference, and less cooperation than any president I’ve seen.”
The Obama administration’s success in the federal judiciary has not come without sacrifice. President Obama has been forced to withdraw five Black judicial nominations, most recently, William Thomas, an openly gay Black judge in Florida, because of a lack of support from Republican senators.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling on Senator Patrick Leahy, who chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, to reform the “blue slip” process.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said that the “blue slip” process is being abused and that is having a chilling effect on qualified Black judicial candidates.
“The reform that we pressed so hard for in the filibuster reform process itself will be still-born if the ‘blue slip’ process is not also reformed,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.).
Rep. Butterfield said that no one is letting the president off the hook, because more diversity is still needed in the 11th circuit where Cohen and Boggs, two White male judges, were just nominated.
Butterfield said that the 11th circuit serves a large population of African Americans, that’s why the region needs more Black judges on the bench.
”It’s the Deep South and we must have some movement,” said Butterfield. “If it means repealing the blue slip process that has been observed for years, then the blue slip needs to be discarded.”