Obama And His Judges (Or Lack Thereof)

The New York Times has a front page article this morning about the Obama Administration’s failure to fill judicial vacancies, especially in comparison to previous administrations. This has long been a subject of griping among many on the left as seeming negligence or oversight on the part of the White House. It’s revealed today to be the result of an intentional strategy.

But a good portion of Mr. Obama’s judicial record stems from a deliberate strategy. While Mr. Bush quickly nominated a slate of appeals court judges early in his first year — including several outspoken conservatives — Mr. Obama moved more slowly and sought relatively moderate jurists who he hoped would not provoke culture wars that distracted attention from his ambitious legislative agenda.

The White House in that first year did not want to nominate candidates who would generate rancorous disputes over social issues that would further polarize the Senate,” said Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s first White House counsel. “We were looking for mainstream, noncontroversial candidates to nominate.”

This will likely dismay those, who for good reason, emphasize the importance of judicial nominations. After all, federal judges serve for life and play crucial roles in shaping and interpreting the law. But, in a White House consumed with battling the financial crisis and implementing an ambitious domestic policy agenda, judicial nominations were just less of a priority.

This can be addressed if Obama wins a second term. After all, he’ll have four more years to make up for lost time at the beginning of his administration. But, if not, it will give Mitt Romney a nearly unprecedented opportunity to remake the federal judiciary in his own image.

Ben Jacobs

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.