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Monday, May 13, 2013

President Obama’s First-Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan

Barry J. McMillion
Analyst on the Federal Judiciary

The process by which lower federal court judges are nominated by the President and considered by the Senate is of continuing interest to Congress. Recent Senate debates in Congress over judicial nominations have focused on issues such as the relative degree of success of President Barack Obama’s nominees in gaining Senate confirmation (compared with other recent Presidents) as well as the number and percentage of vacant judgeships in the federal judiciary and the effect of delayed judicial appointments on judicial vacancy levels. This report addresses these issues, and others, by providing a statistical analysis of nominations to U.S. circuit and district court judgeships during the first terms of President Obama and his four most recent predecessors. Some of the report’s findings include the following:

  • During his first term, President Obama nominated 42 persons to U.S. circuit court judgeships. Of the 42, 30 (71.4%) were confirmed, 5 (11.9%) had their nominations either withdrawn by the President or returned to the President and not resubmitted to the Senate, and 7 (16.7%) had their nominations returned to the President at the end of the 112th Congress and subsequently were renominated during the 113th Congress. 
  • During the first terms of the five most recent Presidents (Reagan to Obama), the 30 confirmed Obama circuit court nominees were tied with 30 Clinton nominees as the fewest number of circuit nominees confirmed. The percentage of circuit nominees confirmed during President Obama’s first term, 71.4%, was the second-lowest, while the percentage confirmed during G.W. Bush’s first term, 67.3%, was the lowest. 
  • Of the 173 persons nominated by President Obama to U.S. district court judgeships during his first term, 143 (82.7%) were confirmed, 6 (3.5%) had their nominations withdrawn or returned and not resubmitted, and 24 (13.9%) had their nominations returned to the President and were renominated during the 113th Congress. 
  • President Obama’s first term, compared with the first terms of Presidents Reagan to G.W. Bush, had the second-fewest number of district court nominees confirmed (143 compared with 130 for President Reagan) and the second-lowest percentage of district court nominees confirmed (82.7% compared with 76.9% for President G.H.W. Bush). 
  • As it did during the first terms of Presidents Reagan, G.H.W. Bush and Clinton, the circuit court vacancy rate during President Obama’s first term increased (from 7.3% at the beginning to 9.5% at the end). Over the five most recent presidencies, G.W. Bush’s first term was the only one during which the circuit court vacancy rate decreased (from 14.5% at the beginning to 8.4% at the end). 
  • As it did during the first terms of Presidents Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, the district court vacancy rate also increased from the beginning to the end of President Obama’s first term (rising from 6.6% to 9.5%). President Obama is the only President during this period for whom the district court vacancy rate increased unaccompanied by the creation of new district court judgeships. 
  • The average number of days elapsed from nomination to confirmation for circuit court nominees confirmed during a President’s first term ranged from 45.5 days during President Reagan’s first term to 277 days during President G.W. Bush’s. For district court nominees, the average time between nomination to confirmation ranged from 34.7 days (Reagan) to 221.8 days (Obama). 
  • The median number of days from nomination to confirmation for circuit court nominees confirmed during a President’s first term ranged from 28 days (Reagan) to 225.5 days (Obama). For district court nominees, the median time elapsed ranged from a low, again, of 28 days (Reagan) to 215 days (Obama). 
  • President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).

Date of Report: May 2, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R43058
Price: $29.95

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