University of Denver

President Obama Reaches Milestones in Naming Judges in 2014

Former Manager, Quality Judges Initiative

According to data presented by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution, President Obama has seen a higher judicial confirmation rate (92 percent) after six years in office than did President George W. Bush (84 percent) and President Clinton (89 percent) at this point in their terms. 2014 was a good year for Obama on this front, with more confirmations than any other single year for these three presidents except 1994 and a record number of confirmations in the post-election lame duck session. In its final act of the year, the U.S. Senate confirmed 12 nominees to the U.S. District Courts. All told, the 113th Congress confirmed more federal judges than any other Congress since 1980.

Many commentators attribute Obama's success in 2014 to last year's change in Senate rules regarding the filibuster, when Democrats reduced the number of votes required to end debate from 60 to 51. According to Wheeler, the main cause for the midterm upswing in confirmations was likely “Majority Leader Harry Reid's determination to use the floor time necessary to get as many confirmations as possible before Democrats lost their Senate majority.”

President Obama is also making his mark on the federal courts in terms of diversity. The 305 Obama-nominated judges are the most diverse group ever. Political scientist Robert Carp says Obama is “on track to be the first president in U.S. history to have a majority of his judicial nominees be either women or persons of color.” As recently as the Reagan administration, 85 percent of appointees to the federal judiciary were white males.