The Senate returned today from a two-week recess and is holding a confirmation vote for Fourth Circuit judicial nominee Stephanie Thacker of West Virginia. This is part of the deal the parties made last month to hold votes on 14 long-pending judicial nominations by May 7. Yet even under the agreement, the confirmation rate is still too low to put a serious dent in the vacancy crisis.
Since the beginning of the year, the number of circuit and district court vacancies has moved from 101 to 97, still unacceptably high. The number of judicial emergencies has increased from 30 then to 34 today, while the number of nominees pending on the floor and eligible for an immediate yes-or-no vote is nearly unchanged: 19 then, 18 now. Between today and the final day of the deal (May 7), we expect the committee to advance at least as many nominees as the full Senate will vote on, meaning the blockage will not be getting at all better.
The Senate is barely treading water.
After May 7, there will be no reason not to hold timely votes on every nominee then pending on the floor, as well as every nominee who subsequently clears the Judiciary Committee.
A look at recent history is instructive, particularly the last time an incumbent president was running for reelection. After May 7, 2004, the Senate continued to work, confirming an additional 31 nominees up through September, including five for circuit courts. And that was at a time when the overall vacancy rate was lower than it is today.
Our nation needs a fully functioning court system. That should be a priority for the Senate when it comes back next week and throughout this election year.