Map & Data Resources

Updated judicial vacancies tool: big reduction in median time to Senate action

Map & Data Resources | By Meade KlingensmithMike Alberti |

As shown by the table below, there were dramatic differences in the handling of judicial vacancies during the first term of George W. Bush and the first term of Barack Obama. The median number of days from the occurence of a vacancy to a nomination increased by 43.95 percent. The median number of days that nominations were pending before the Senate increased by 43.42 percent.

When making these calculations, we treated judicial vacancies that pre-existed the start of a presidential term as starting on the first day of the term (that’s when we started the clock running). We used the last date of the presidential term to stop the clock, even where there hadn’t been a nomination or confirmation.

What about vacancies for which there were more than one nominee? We added together all the time during the presidential term when a nominee was pending before the Senate, and, separately, all the time during the presidential term when there wasn’t a nominee.

The right-most column of the table deals with current vacancies, including those that opened prior to President Obama’s second term (indeed, there are some that occurred prior to President Obama taking office in 2009). For this calculation, we did not adjust the vacancy date.  As such, this number is not directly comparable with the results shown in the other columns.

These data do show do reflect an especially sharp decline from the picture we presented back in March of this year (268 days). What has happened? Over the last several months, the Senate acted on 20 of the 24 vacancies that had been pending in March, eliminating most of the longest-pending vacancies. Added to that, Obama has made 15 new nominations, 12 of them since late-July, including several in September. When each nominee is put on the board, so to speak, the “days pending before Senate” column starts at zero, also contributing to the lowering of the median time.

Since only one of the new nominees has been acted on, median time will begin to grow in the absence of Senate action in the fall.

Time calculations presented here are accurate to October 16, 2013; we will update again early in January.

As with the comparison of first terms, we added together all the “pending before the Senate” time for each vacancy, regardless of how many nominees there were, and regardless of whether different nominees spanned different presidencies (an unusual, but not unheard of, circumstance). We proceeded analogously with aggregating the “days between vacancy and nomination” numbers.

Source:  The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary


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