Doing the math on judicial nominees

The Senate confirms Bush's 205th judge.

Topics: George W. Bush, War Room, Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.,

There are 871 seats in the federal judiciary. Over the last four and a half years, the Senate has confirmed George W. Bush’s nominees to sit in 204 of them.

Make that 205. The Senate confirmed Bush’s nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York last night. The vote on Paul Crotty’s nomination was unanimous, 95-0, with a couple of senators from each party absent.

It took the Senate six months to confirm Crotty, but not because of obstructionist tactics by the Democrats. As Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained last month, Democrats have been waiting for months to vote for Crotty and J. Michael Seabright, Bush’s nominee to serve on the U.S. District Court for Hawaii. Leahy said anonymous holds — placed on the nominations by Republican senators — have kept either nominee from coming up for a vote until now. Crotty got his last night; Seabright is still waiting.

If and when the Republicans allow a vote on Seabright, Bush will get his 206th judge. For all the talk of Democratic obstruction and the need for a “nuclear option,” there must be hundreds more that the Democrats have blocked, right? Well, no. Two-hundred-and-five of Bush’s judicial nominees have been confirmed. The Democrats have blocked exactly 10.

Republicans say the 10 who have been blocked matter a whole lot more than the 205 who have been confirmed. There’s a little truth to the argument: While Bush enjoys a comparatively high approval rate for his District Court nominations, a smaller percentage of his nominees to the more powerful U.S. Court of Appeals have made it through the Senate. Bush has nominated 52 judges to the Court of Appeals; the 10 the Democrats have blocked are all in that group. But that doesn’t mean that Democratic appointees are running the show in the federal appellate courts. At the moment, Republican appointees control the Supreme Court seven to two, and Republican appointees dominate 10 of the 13 appellate circuits. By the time Bush’s second term ends, Republicans will almost certainly dominate 12 of the 13 circuit courts, leaving only the Ninth Circuit in Democratic control.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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