When I voted for Obama, one big reason was the power of the President to appoint members of the federal judiciary. Often our court system is the only thing that stands between screwy executive and legislative branch actions that violate the Constitution and/or established laws.
Judges aren't perfect, for sure, and I'll offer a couple of egregious examples of this. But getting competent people appointed to vacant judicial positions is the best way for a President to assure that our federal courts operate as our Founding Fathers intended.
So I've been bothered by Obama's seeming "ho-hum" attitude toward Republican obstructionism of his judge nominees.
Even though he's gotten two Supreme Court judges through the confirmation process, the AP reported that the president has been the least successful at filling judicial vacancies in 40 years.
A determined Republican stall campaign in the Senate has sidetracked so many of the men and women nominated by President Barack Obama for judgeships that he has put fewer people on the bench than any U.S. president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago.
The delaying tactics have proved so successful, despite the Democrats' substantial Senate majority, that fewer than half of Obama's nominees have been confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships are vacant.
Forty-seven of those vacancies have been labeled emergencies by the judiciary because of heavy caseloads.
That's sickening. What's the point of winning an election if Obama and the Democrats are willing to roll over and let the Republicans block the President's constitutional duty to fill vacant seats on federal courts?
The AP story goes on to say:
At this point in President George W. Bush's first term, 72 judges had been confirmed by a Senate that Democrats controlled for much of Bush's first two years. By contrast, the Senate has had 59 or 60 seats under Democratic control during Obama's tenure but has only confirmed 40 of his judges. Nixon, a Republican, got 33 judges through a Democratic-controlled Senate.
"What's interesting is you got a guy (Bush) who was barely elected president with a Senate in the hands of the opposing party, and he is going to come out better in his first two years than a guy who got elected with a big majority and had a big majority in the Senate too," said Brookings Institution scholar Russell Wheeler.
And the Dem leadership in Congress wonders why their base is so unfired-up to vote this November.
Here's one of many answers: You've squandered a large voting majority that was given to you by previously enthusiastic Democratic supporters. If you don't care about using your power, why should progressives want to keep you in power?
Well, they should anyway, because the right-wing alternative is much worse than the blundering Democratic status quo. There's time for Obama and the Senate to get their judge-appointing act together during the last two years of his first term.
Two recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions should provide an impetus for getting good judges in the federal court system. The Ninth Circuit, which handles cases for the western United States (including Oregon), is considered a pretty liberal court.
The Ninth Circuit decided, on a narrow 6-5 ruling, that torture victims who were part of the CIA's extra-legal "extraordinary rendition" program didn't have a right to sue those responsible for this outrage, because state secrets could be revealed if a suit went forward.
Geez. Shades of "1984."
The government can't be challenged because Big Brother says its operations would be hampered if people learned what was going on. Of course, we don't know if this is true, because telling us what is going on is a state secret.
Equally bothersome, and closer to home, was another Ninth Circuit ruling which said it's OK for police to attach a GPS device to a car parked in your driveway without a warrant. This is baffling. Who knew that Big Brother can legally track everywhere you drive without your knowledge and without a judge's order?
In his dissent, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said "I don't think that most people in the United States would agree with the panel that someone who leaves his car parked in his driveway outside the door of his home invites people to crawl under it and attach a device that will track the vehicle's every movement and transmit that information to total strangers. There is something creepy and un-American about such clandestine and underhanded behavior."
This shows that judges can grant freedoms, and they can take away freedoms. And why it's so important that Obama needs to start demanding that his judicial nominees be confirmed as soon as possible.