Obama’s stamp on the courts

I had no idea so many openings existed in the federal courts.

14 seats are open on appeals courts or will be by the end of January. Democratic appointees are a majority on one of the 13 federal appeals courts, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit.

These are the courts that as a practical matter have the final say on everyday issues that affect millions of people because the Supreme Court accepts fewer than 2 percent of the cases appealed to the justices.

“Most of the action is in the lower courts, from labor and employment law to civil rights to punitive damages to affirmative action and how the death penalty is administered,” said Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.

The traditionally conservative 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, is the first court on which Obama can change the balance of power quickly. It has four openings and has five judges appointed by Republican presidents and five named by Democrat Bill Clinton.

Covering Maryland, the Carolinas and Virginia, the 4th Circuit hears a large share of national security and intelligence cases because Virginia is the home of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Shapiro estimates that within four years, Obama can name enough judges to give Democrats majorities on nine of the 13 appeals courts.

Both Clinton and Bush had trouble getting some nominees through the Senate. Bill Clinton wasted precious time in his first two years in office as he was slow to nominate judges. Then, he was stuck with a Republican Senate that made it much more dificult to get his nominees through the confirmation process. George W. Bush had epic battles with the Senate over judges.

Obama has the advantage of a healthy majority in the Senate. As we’ve seen from his transition team, Obama isn’t wastin any time. Expect the nominations to come fast in the first year.

  

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