The 116th Congress has officially begun, and it has a lot of work to do on the judicial nominations front.
The 115th Congress confirmed an impressive 85 new federal judges—including two Supreme Court justices and a record-breaking 30 circuit court judges. But thanks to former Senator Jeff Flake’s hold at the end of 2018, only one judicial nominee was confirmed before Christmas and 71 judicial nominations were returned to the White House last week upon the expiration of the 115th Congress. The returned nominations included 12 circuit court and 59 district court nominations.
Because Democrats required cloture votes for the lion’s share of President Trump’s judicial nominees the last two years, there are now substantially more judicial vacancies than there were on Inauguration Day. At the beginning of the Trump presidency, there were 17 circuit court vacancies and 108 district/specialty court vacancies, for a combined total of 125 vacancies. That number has since ballooned to 162 vacancies, with 15 circuit court vacancies and 147 district/specialty court vacancies today.
The White House will now begin the process of re-nominating individuals for these vacancies. Those who had nominations hearings in 2017 or 2018 will not require new hearings but they will need to be voted out of Senate Judiciary Committee again, which will require additional Committee time for processing nominees.
An increased GOP margin in the Senate in a divided Congress presents a unique opportunity to prioritize the courts, and make an even greater impact on the federal judiciary these next two years than the last Congress. Several circuits—including the Second, Third, Fourth, and Eleventh—are very close to flipping from majority Democrat-appointed to majority Republican-appointed.
Current and known future vacancies: 162
Courts of Appeals: 15
District/Specialty Courts*: 147
Pending nominees for current and known future vacancies: 0
Courts of Appeals: 0
District/Specialty Courts*: 0
* Includes the Court of Federal Claims and the International Trade Court
Court of Appeals Nominees Awaiting Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings
|Nominee (Circuit)||Nomination Date||Days Pending||Both Blue Slips Returned?||Judiciary Committee Hearing Date|
Court of Appeals Nominees Awaiting Senate Judiciary Committee Votes
|Nominee (Circuit)||Nomination Date||Days Pending||Judiciary Committee Hearing Date|
Court of Appeals Nominees Awaiting Senate Floor Votes
|Nominee (Circuit)||Nomination Date||Days Pending||Date Reported to Senate Floor|
Nominees Awaiting Floor Votes: 0
Courts of Appeals: 0
Nominees Confirmed by the Senate since Inauguration Day: 85
Supreme Court: 2
Courts of Appeals: 30
District/Specialty Courts: 53