The Senate obstructionism that began with Reagan’s nominees thus became a game of political revenge as each new batch of nominees was made to suffer at the hands of one party for the treatment its nominees had received in the last round. Republicans blocked some of President Bill Clinton’s nominees, including briefly, Sonia Sotomayor, the Second Circuit judge said to be on Mr. Obama’s short list to replace Mr. Souter. Unable to bottle up Miguel Estrada in committee in 2003, Democrats filibustered him on the floor of the Senate. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) held up as many as four judicial nominations for years in retribution for Republicans blocking Mr. Clinton’s nomination of Helene White (she was confirmed for the Sixth Circuit last year). And so on.
The effect of this game has been toxic not only for the nominees but for the courts. Many circuits have suffered judicial emergencies, defined as vacancies on courts overwhelmed by their caseloads, or vacancies languishing more than 18 months on busy circuits. Some stood open longer. The Bush administration’s 2006 appointment of Peter Keisler to fill the D.C. Circuit seat vacated by John Roberts was left to expire, unfilled, at the end of the administration.