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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 30, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 53
Unfinished business:

103 federal court vacancies await Trump
Section One
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Unfinished business:

103 federal court vacancies await Trump

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Donald Trump will inherit an unusually large number of federal court vacancies when he is sworn in on January 20.

According to the Washington Post, the 103 judicial opening that President Obama will have to turn over to Trump is nearly double the 54 positions Obama inherited eight years ago following George W. Bush's presidency.

The federal court website lists 890 federal judge positions, ranging from district judgeships to the US Supreme Court.

The most prominent vacancy is the Supreme Court spot vacated when Antonin Scalia died on February 12, but there are also 14 circuit court vacancies to be filled. The Supreme Court hears about 75 cases a year, but tens of thousands are decided at the circuit court level, affecting everyone who lives in the states included within those circuits.

Confirmation of Obama's judicial nominees slowed to a crawl after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Republican Senate leaders flat out refused to hold hearings on Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee to succeed Scalia.

Democrats accuse Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, of intentionally denying Obama's nominees a fair hearing and running out the clock in hopes - now proven correct - that a Republican would succeed him.

Twenty-five Obama nominees are still awaiting a Senate vote, even though they have been approved with bipartisan support in committee, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

'Republican tactics have been shameful and will forever leave a stain on the United States Senate,' Schultz said. 'Republican congressional dysfunction has now metastasized to the third branch of government, and that is not a legacy to be proud of.'

Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, added, 'Despite the fact that there are dozens of qualified, consensus nominees pending on the Senate floor right now, we will finish this Congress having confirmed just 22 judicial nominees in two years. That is the lowest number since Harry Truman was president.'

Nevertheless, Obama will have a significant influence on the future of the federal judiciary. Despite his problems winning confirmation for his nominees, the Senate has confirmed slightly more of his nominees during his eight years as president - 329 - than the 326 confirmed during George W. Bush's two terms.

When Obama took office, only one of the 13 regional circuit courts had a majority of Democratic-nominated judges. As he leaves office, nine do.

On the other hand, Trump has an opportunity to restore a Republican advantage. According to Russell Wheeler, an expert on judicial nominations at the Brookings Institution, by mid-2020, Republican appointees would hold about half of the 673 district judgeships, as opposed to the current 34%.

Among the 179 circuit court judgeships, Democratic appointees now hold a slim 51% majority, but that could fall to about 43%, Wheeler said.

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