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Obama to GOP: Drop hurdles to judicial nominations

President Obama is pressing Republicans to stop obstructing federal judicial nominees, protesting the delays in private conversations with senators and in public declarations by administration officials.

The White House is now focusing on the nomination of Sri Srinivasan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, considered the nation’s second-most influential court because it often handles major environmental, labor and national security cases through its jurisdiction over federal rulemaking. Srinivasan’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

At luncheon meetings with Senate and House Republicans and at a dinner with a dozen senators last month, Obama pushed against a partisan strategy to block potential future candidates for the Supreme Court earlier in their careers when they are nominated for lower courts, said an administration official, who requested anonymity.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney went to the White House podium this week to complain about “the uniqueness” and “arbitrariness” of the delays Obama’s nominees have faced.

The latest example was Caitlin Halligan, a former New York state solicitor general whose nomination for an appellate judgeship was withdrawn last month amid Republican opposition. She joins Goodwin Liu, an appellate court candidate considered a potential pick by Obama to be the Supreme Court’s first Asian-American justice, who was blocked in the Senate in 2011.

Democrats have used the tactic, too, stopping Miguel Estrada, a George W. Bush appeals court nominee, whom opponents believed Bush might later make the first Hispanic justice.

“You are taking away talent at a much earlier stage,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton history professor, calling it “a reciprocal use of filibustering against the bench of the other party.”

The judicial arena offers a stark illustration of obstructionism: The average wait for confirmation of circuit and district court nominees in Obama’s first term stretched to 227 days, from 176 days in Bush’s first term and 98 days in President Bill Clinton’s first term, according to an analysis by Russell Wheeler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

No nominee has been confirmed since 2006 for the D.C. Circuit, a feeder for the Supreme Court; four of the top court’s nine current justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, previously sat on the D.C. Circuit.

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