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Long Wait Persists for Judicial Hopefuls

The number of federal court vacancies is nearing historic highs.

But don’t expect the Senate to suddenly push aside its other business and spend the next month trying to ram through President Barack Obama’s long-stalled picks for the bench.

Instead, a few nominees might fill the time between bills over the next few weeks. More likely, judicial nominations could be relegated to Monday night bed-check votes, a practice that has become more common in recent months as the chamber has been bogged down in partisan gridlock.

That practice will continue tonight, when Senators file in from their monthlong break to consider the nomination of Jane Stranch to serve on the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“Monday night bed-check votes are often judicial votes because they are quick and easy, so they’re good to get out of the way,” a Judiciary Committee aide said, noting that nominees considered at the start of a week often clear without defections.

If confirmed, Stranch will become the seventh judicial nominee since June to be considered on a Monday night, and like the others, she could sail through without opposition on the floor.

According the Judiciary Committee, an unusually high 103 out of 876 federal district and circuit court judgeships are vacant.

The chamber has voted on nine judicial nominees since June and confirmed just 19 of Obama’s nominees this year.

So far in his presidency, 42 of Obama’s 89 judicial picks, including two Supreme Court nominees, have been confirmed, setting a pace Democrats describe as painfully slow. By comparison, President George W. Bush saw 75 of his 127 judicial nominees confirmed at the same point in his presidency, and for President Bill Clinton, 84 of his 124 were confirmed.

Obama weighed in on the issue Friday, telling reporters, “I am concerned about all Senate nominations these days.”

“We’ve got judges who are pending. We’ve got people who are waiting to help us on critical issues like homeland security,” Obama said. “And it’s very hard when you’ve got a determined minority in the Senate that insists on a 60-vote filibuster on every single person that we’re trying to confirm, even if after we break the filibuster it turns out that they get 90 votes.”

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy often takes to the floor to discuss judicial nominees, rattling off statistics and calling for consensus picks to be confirmed. In a statement, the Vermont Democrat warned, “The cost of this partisan obstruction is mounting caseloads and backlogs in federal courts throughout the country, making it harder for Americans to seek justice in their courts.”

“There is no good reason to hold up consideration for weeks and months of nominees reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee,” he added.

Jeff Peck, who served as chief of staff of the Judiciary Committee under former Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), said potential nominees could be deterred from wanting to serve on the bench if they fear being subjected to a confirmation process that could take months or even years to complete.

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