But Obama’s biggest obstacle is the Senate, where Republicans have frequently blocked judicial confirmation votes for months or, in some cases, years. Obama has 35 nominees currently awaiting votes by the Senate — including several holdovers from 2012 who have been renominated this year — and there are more than 50 additional vacancies awaiting nominees, according to the Federal Judicial Center.
Some conservatives are skeptical of the push to name more women and minorities to the bench, arguing that it amounts to unjustified affirmative action. Curt Levey, an outspoken Obama critic who runs the advocacy group Committee for Justice, said the White House may be “lowering their standards” to nominate more nonwhite judges.
“If they’re talking about achieving [diversity] through aggressive identification of minority candidates, then that’s their prerogative,” Levey said. “If they’re talking about doing it through preferences, having a lower threshold of qualifications for minorities, then I don’t approve. And it’s hard to know which they’re doing. Unlike a college admissions system, where it’s easy to quantify, this is difficult.”
During Obama’s first term, judicial nominations often fell by the wayside in the face of the economic crisis and other policy priorities at the White House. Many liberal allies complained that the president did little to champion nominees once they were named.
“Republicans will throw up every roadblock they can,” said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice. “We’re counting on the White House and Senate leadership to be more assertive in getting nominees confirmed.”