Paul Waldman over at The American Prospect wrote, Not Too Shabby So Far: Obama’s Judicial Legacy. It puts Obama’s judicial nominations in perspective by comparing them to other recent presidents. What it looks like is that Obama is on track to make as many appointments as Clinton and Reagan. Of course, if the Senate continues to allow the unprecedented filibuster use, his nominations may not look much better in four years than they look now. As I’ve been arguing for a while: the filibuster is important for presidential nomination almost exclusively. The House of Representatives is unlikely to allow much in the way of decent legislation get passed. But Obama can at least get some decent people on the bench if the Senate will allow it.
It is interesting to look at the number of Supreme Court nominations over the years. They have actually gone down. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy/Johnson, and Nixon all had 4+ nominations. Even Ford in his two years got one nomination. But since then, it is generally just two. I think this is because the very worst judges insist upon dying on the court. I just don’t see Scalia, for example, ever stepping down. However, it would be really helpful if one of the conservatives on the court could die suddenly. Unfortunately, the conservatives on the court are fairly young. And of course they all get Cheney-level healthcare.
In terms of the lower courts, Obama is doing pretty well. He’s nominated 50 Circuit Court and 185 district court judges. Of course, not all of those judges have been confirmed. But if we get filibuster reform and Obama keeps nominating at his current rate, he will outdo even Reagan in this regard. Of course, that isn’t likely to happen. As vacancies are filled there are fewer positions to nominate for and fewer candidates that the president feels comfortable nominating.
There is one area where Obama is head and shoulders above all other presidents in terms of judicial nominations: diversity. Here is how he stacks up with other recent presidents on the gender of the nominations:
And here is how he looks regarding the race of his nominees:
There are a couple of things to note here. First is that our country has done a terrible job of getting past its legacy of racism and sexism. But it is nice to see that in general, the Democrats are the ones leading the way. Still, it is clear that we have a long way yet to go.
But the biggest takeaway from these graphs is that Obama really has done a remarkable job in improving diversity on the courts. What’s more, his record overall is not bad. I do hope he continues pressing to fill court vacancies. Given the current state of Congress, it is likely that his greatest second term legacy will be his court appointments.