George Curry – NNPA Columnist

OPINION – Many speakers at this week’s Republican convention in Tampa have focused on the economy and unemployment as they sought to contrast the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan GOP ticket with the record of President Barack Obama. But there is another battle underway that is receiving less attention but is at least equally import – the fight to appoint federal judges.

For several decades, Republicans have made judicial appointments a top priority. It is still a priority for the GOP and should be one for Democrats, especially because the 5-4 Supreme Court conservative majority could be widened or shifted in the other direction with the possible appointment of two justices over the next four years.

Both President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have made it clear they would appoint a different kind of judge to the federal bench.

So far, the Obama record on appointing judges is like his race – mixed.

Obama has appointed two Supreme Court justices – the same number as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appointed over eight years. He appointed 30 appeals court judges, roughly the same number that Clinton and Bush averaged over a term. The real difference was at the district court level, where most cases are decided. Obama has appointed only 125 district judges, compared to 170 for Clinton and 162 for Bush at this point of their presidency.

Part of the problem was that Obama made judicial appointments a low priority as he tried to push his health reform initiative through Congress. Although he fell far behind Bush’s pace in his first year, he later accelerated the process but not fast enough to equal Bush. A second problem was GOP opposition to Obama’s nominees.

Even so, Obama did make significant changes.

The number of appeals court judges appointed by Democrats is now 49 percent, a 10 percent increase over when Bush left office. When Obama took office, judges appointed by Democrats dominated only one federal appeals circuit. Now, six of the 13 circuits are dominated by judges appointed by Democrats.

An Aug. 17 New York Times article on Obama’s judicial record observed: “…Mr. Obama has also largely shied away from nominating assertive liberals who might stand as ideological counterpoints to some of the assertive conservatives Mr. Bush named. Instead of prominent liberal academics whose scholarly writings and videotaped panel discussions would provide ammunition to conservatives, Mr. Obama gravitated toward litigators, prosecutors and sitting district judges and state judges, especially those who would diversify the bench.”

Many of those were met with Republican obstruction.

“The Republicans’ goal has been clear from the start – to keep as many seats as possible vacant for a future Republican president to fill with ultraconservative judges,” noted the Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 progressive organizations.

Obama’s goal of diversifying the federal bench has been complicated by the American Bar Association, a group of judicial professionals that vets candidates for federal judgeships.

The New York Times article stated, “Awkwardly, the American Bar Association’s judicial vetting committee later scuttled at least 14 finalists for nominations – nearly all women and minorities –by declaring them ‘not qualified.’”

In 2001, the George W. Bush administration announced that it would cease cooperating with the ABA in advance of judicial nominations, preferring to go with judges favored by the conservative Federalist Society. However, Obama has been unwilling to appoint judges not approved by the ABA.

There is a down side to making safe judicial appointments, especially when conservatives are unabashed in their quest to remake the courts.

In a report on the last term of the Supreme Court titled, “The One-Percent Court,” the Alliance for Justice observed that in the landmark decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Justices Elena Kagan, appointed by President Obama and Stephen Breyer, appointed by Bill Clinton, joined the five staunch conservatives on the court in holding that limits can be placed on Congress’ ability to address some national issues, including civil rights, under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution.

Obama’s only bold move in this area was the nomination of Goodwin Liu, a liberal University of California-Berkeley law professor, to the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Senate Republicans blocked his appointment with a filibuster.

He briefly considered nominating another liberal, Pamela Karlan of Stanford University, but stayed with candidates that he believed would be more acceptable to Republicans.

The Times article stated, “While she said she was not disappointed, Ms. Karlan expressed worries that if Republicans nominated outspoken conservatives but Democrats did not nominate equally liberal ones, the center of mainstream legal debate would shift to the right.”

And that’s exactly what has happened.


George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, You can also follow him at

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of, The Sacramento OBSERVER, Sacramento OBSERVER Media Group, it’s owners or management.


The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), known as the Black Press of America, is the federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers in the United States.

One reply on “GEORGE CURRY: Obama’s Mixed Record on Appointing Judges”

  1. The Federal Courts do not need newly appointed and confirmed Judges–they need a vacuum cleaner. These courts, at the hands of impotent oversight, have evolved into mob families. There is no legitimate court process going on; federal crimes are routinely committed by the staff of these courts who fear no consequence. You have law clerks who in collusion with outside attorneys actively blocking cases from the District and Circuit Judges. You have law clerks and assistant circuit executives blocking judges, denying rights and rendering bogus documents that the judges have no idea exist; some of these tax paid public servants do not even have an active law license. The truth of the matter is instead of worrying about who will be the next judge confirmed you need to wonder why the current judges who surely must be aware of the corruption in these courts have not been called to extensive impeachment hearings. The law clerks need to go and the confirmed need to do their job; the lower courts need closed, the legal community needs reform and a mass of these people need to be brought to justice and spend a considerable amount of time in prison. YOU AS LOWER STAFF OF A FEDERAL COURT DO NOT GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE WHO IS ALLOWED JUSTICE! Ask former Massachusetts Speaker Sal DiMasi who is now fighting cancer from within prison walls how he feels about people committing dishonest service fraud on a daily basis being part of the same system that sent him to prison. These people when caught in the act simply cover their crimes with more crime all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Having filing only one law suit in a life time, it is interesting how one can be named a vexatious litigant in a bogus clerk rendered document that takes all effort to ensure no In Forma Pauperis filing will be allowed at the appeals court where within weeks of that bogus judgment the attorney heads for a stay at the White House; this fool attorney actually took his family, including his kids to the White House so he could ensure any Petition filed with the Supreme Court would never see a judge. The paid for appeal at the First Circuit then took three weeks before appearing on the docket and had In Forma Pauperis checked; multiple acts of fraud continued and the appeal was dismissed with another fraudulent document. Petition to SCOTUS showing the fraud in the lower courts with a total denial of access to the courts DENIED subverting multiple acts of Congress and the First and Fifth Amendments. Apparently the ADA is only on paper. Most interesting is how the corruption extends clear to the Administrative Offices of the US Courts where misconduct is not remedied but covered up and where the Office of General Counsel also usurps judicial authority and blocks you from a judge. ASK YOUR SELVES FOLKS DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SUPPORT THESE PEOPLE? The corruption in this country will continue to proliferate as long as we have filthy courts. Samples of corruption below and public documents that support this comment at
    Take a few quick looks at the corruption!!

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