President Obama is the first White House occupant in history who hasn’t picked a majority of white male judges for lifetime appointments on the federal bench, an Associated Press article reports.
More than 70 percent of Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees are “non-traditional,” that is, not white males. His 98 judicial nominees confirmed so far by the Senate have included African Americans, 21 percent; Hispanics, 11 percent; Asian Americans, 7 percent; and women, 47 percent.
“It is an absolutely remarkable diversity achievement,” said Sheldon Goldman, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who writes about judicial nominations.
“The more diverse the courts, the more confidence people have in our judicial system,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice. “Having a diverse judiciary also enriches the decision-making process.”
Obama’s record for bringing greater diversity to the federal bench has gotten news media attention earlier this year (see Gavel Grab), but the article from the widely disseminated AP is likely to get wide readership. It provides a touch of history, noting that there were no women or minorities holding federal judgeships for more than 140 years. To learn more about the importance of judicial diversity, see the JAS issues page on the topic.
Meanwhile a column by former Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Timothy K. Lewis examines four recent battles over appeals court nominations that were laced with political partisanship and asks, “Are judicial nomination battles damaging our democracy?”
Judge Lewis was nominated to the appeals bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush. His confirmation hearing lasted an hour and he was confirmed a few days later. His commentary appears in the “Constitution Daily” blog of the National Constitution Center.
Regarding Obama’s 55 judicial nominees who currently are “in limbo, awaiting Senate action,” Judge Lewis voices concern. He cites not only such “real-world consequences” as delays in businesses getting rulings, or in defendants getting appeals heard, because of judicial vacancies, but also broader consequences of bruising political partisanship:
“With such tales, what chance is there for maintaining a judiciary indifferent to politics, as the Framers intended? And what chance is there that a talented judge would follow his convictions when a potentially controversial decision could make him politically unsuitable for promotion to a higher court? In each case, I’d like to think that principle would win out, but the partisan process of the past few years makes me worry.”
Justice at Stake has urged bipartisan action in the Senate to give timely up-or-down votes on judicial nominees. In February, JAS was among 76 groups urging the U.S. Senate to speed its pace of judicial confirmations, saying that “obstructionist practices” have delayed up-or-down votes, and that severe shortages on the federal bench have reached a “state of crisis.”