What Crisis?

By Lithwick, Dahlia | Newsweek, September 20, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

What Crisis?

Lithwick, Dahlia, Newsweek

Byline: Dahlia Lithwick

Why vacancies on the bench matter.

Maybe it's a failure of language. Perhaps we've been referring to it as the "judicial-vacancy crisis" for so long that nobody believes it's a crisis anymore. Maybe we should upgrade it to a national judicial disaster or the global war on the judiciary. As the Los Angeles Times reported last week, approximately one federal judicial seat in eight is now vacant, and more are opening up. But instead of attempting to fix the problem, both sides argue over who is to blame.

Barack Obama has seated fewer federal judges than any president since Richard Nixon, and despite the Democrats' majority in the Senate, 102 out of 854 seats are vacant, and less than half of Obama's nominees have been confirmed. Now cue the finger-pointing. Democrats say Republicans are deliberately gumming up the confirmation process for Obama judges, using arcane Senate procedures and threats of filibusters to stretch out the process for even the most uncontroversial appointees. They're right. Republicans respond that Democrats started this game, and that the buck stops at Obama, who got off to a slow start with judicial nominations and never bothered to make this issue a priority. They're right too.

Of course, not all blame is created equal. While it's true that Obama has been slow to put forth judges, and allowed the left-leaning American Bar Association extra time to vet his nominees, Republican obstruction has also reached new lows with this administration. As Russell Wheeler, who studies judicial vacancies at the Brookings Institution, explained to the Times, the longstanding political parlor game of stalling opposing federal-appeals-court nominations has recently "spread like a virus to the district courts." And despite some cries that Obama is stacking the bench with radical, wild-eyed liberals, the president has--with very few exceptions--nominated almost exclusively a slate of racially diverse moderates, who tend to receive near-unanimous support when they finally come to a vote. So when Senate Republicans suggest that Obama or Harry Reid is at fault for declining to stage a massive showdown over the judiciary in the Senate, it starts to sound a bit as if they are demanding greater obstruction of their own obstructionism.

But who's at fault for the judicial-vacancy standoff is only half the story. The real problem lies in convincing Americans that it matters.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

What Crisis?


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?