When President Bush II left the White House in 2009, the 13 U.S. courts of appeal were firmly under Republican appointees’ control. Ten appeals courts had majority GOP judges, two were evenly split and only one had a majority of Democrats. President Obama’s 49 appeals court appointees have dramatically altered the landscape. As of the Senate’s recess on May 23, nine of those courts had majority Democratic appointees and four had Republican majorities.
(There are 10 vacancies in the circuit courts. One Obama nominee is awaiting a Senate vote and three nominees pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.) The change, much feared by Republicans, is not necessarily shocking. But the transformation, in just 5 1/2 years, said University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur D. Hellman, an authority on the federal circuit courts, marks ”a huge shift in a very short period of time.” And it means that Democratic appointed judges “have the ability to control every important case if they wish to” in those nine circuits, he said.
Timothy B. Lee: Obama Has Secured Democratic Majorities On Most Federal Appeals Courts
A president’s Supreme Court nominees get a lot of attention, but presidents shape less visible parts of the judiciary too. Barack Obama is no exception. The Washington Post has a chart showing how the president has changed the composition of the nation’s appeals courts over the last five and a half years: Now, it’s important to say that courts are not supposed to be partisan institutions.
Still, Democratic judicial nominees tend to be more liberal than Republican nominees. And so the growing number of Democrat-appointed judges in our appeals courts will push American jurisprudence to the left on a wide range of issues. And because Obama’s nominees will stay on the bench long after Obama leaves office, these nominations will be one of his most durable legacies.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with Justice Sonia Sotomayor prior to a reception for the new Supreme Court Justice at the White House, on Aug. 12, 2009.
AP: President Barack Obama is moving at an historic pace to try to diversify the nation’s federal judiciary: Nearly three of every four people he has gotten confirmed to the federal bench are women or minorities. He is the first president who hasn’t selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships.
More than 70 percent of Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees during his first two years were “non-traditional,” or nominees who were not white males. That far exceeds the percentages in the two-term administrations of Bill Clinton (48.1 percent) and George W. Bush (32.9 percent), according to Sheldon Goldman, author of the authoritative book “Picking Federal Judges”.
“It is an absolutely remarkable diversity achievement,” said Goldman, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst…
…. The president won Senate confirmation of the first Latina to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. With the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan, he has put three women on the high court for the first time. The Obama administration also nominated and won confirmation of the first openly gay man to a federal judgeship: former Clinton administration official J. Paul Oetken, to an opening in New York City.
… Of the 98 Obama nominees confirmed to date, the administration says 21 percent are African-American, 11 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are Asian-American and almost half – 47 percent – are women…
… “The more diverse the courts, the more confidence people have in our judicial system,” said Nan Aron of the liberal Alliance for Justice. “Having a diverse judiciary also enriches the decision-making process.”
Chicago Tribune: A Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked the state’s new and contentious collective bargaining law from taking effect. The ruling was handed down this morning by Judge Maryann Sumi in a lawsuit filed by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.
Ozanne contended a legislative committee that broke a stalemate that had kept the law in limbo for weeks met without the proper 24-hour notice required by Wisconsin’s open meetings law. A separate lawsuit that Sumi will also consider alleges full Senate’s vote on the law was improper.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure last week and Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law on Friday. Both Walker and Republican leaders insist it was enacted properly.
The law can’t take effect until it’s formally published by Secretary of State Doug La Follette, a Democrat. He has 10 days after the governor signs a law to publish it, and he has said he plans to use all the time allotted to him before doing so on March 25.
Ozanne, also a Democrat, wants Sumi to grant an emergency order blocking La Follette from publishing the law while a judge weighs the merits of his case.
Democratic Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk filed a similar lawsuit last Friday. Falk also sought an emergency order blocking publication, but Judge Amy Smith denied it and said Falk’s attorneys had failed to prove the law’s implementation would cause irreparable harm as the lawsuit works its way through the courts. Falk later asked the law be blocked on a non-emergency basis.
Steve Benen (Washington Monthly): We talked a few weeks ago about the very different ways in which the media responds to court rulings on the Affordable Care Act. Those upholding the constitutionality of the health care law get very little attention, while conservative rulings against the law are literally treated as front-page news.
Now that there’s a new federal court ruling – Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in support of the law on Tuesday, becoming the fifth to rule on the merits – let’s take a moment to reevaluate this.
Three federal district courts have said the Affordable Care Act meets constitutional muster; two have reached the opposite conclusion. Here’s how four major media outlets have covered the rulings, in the order in which the decisions came down: See here for statistics
…the discrepancy is overwhelming. In every instance, conservative rulings get more coverage, longer articles, and better placement …. the Washington Post couldn’t bother to run a single article – not one – about the Kessler ruling…
…it seems very likely the public has been left with the impression that the health care law is legally dubious and struggling badly in the courts because that’s what news organizations have told them to believe.
President Barack Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010
WH: Today, a judge in Florida issued a decision in a case filed by 25 Republican Attorneys General and Governors striking down the Affordable Care Act. This ruling is well out of the mainstream of judicial opinion. Twelve federal judges have already dismissed challenges to the constitutionality of the health reform law, and two judges – in the Eastern District of Michigan and Western District of Virginia – have upheld the law. In one other case, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a very narrow ruling on the constitutionality of the health reform law’s “individual responsibility” provision and upheld the rest of the law.
Salon: A Reagan appointee rules the entire healthcare reform act unconstitutional — and praises the Boston Tea Party……That sound you hear is the flutter of million ecstatic tweets of joy from conservatives, even if, in the short term, nothing substantive changes today. The legal status of the Affordable Care Act won’t be decided until the Supreme Court makes its own determination, a point that is at least a year or two away.
….a paragraph in Judge Vinson’s opinion seems more than a little resonant of current political fashions:
“It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place:
A Tea Party shout-out in a legal opinion on healthcare reform? Seems just a little bit obvious. Not to mention activist.