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A whole new day on filling the federal courts

Obama and Senate Democrats are slowly changing the face of the judiciary. It's an overlooked part of the president's legacy.
The sun begins to set behind the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The sun begins to set behind the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.
For much of President Obama's tenure, there have been plenty of complaints from the left -- including some from me -- about the way in which Democrats dealt with judicial nominees. The White House seemed slow to send would-be judges to the Senate for consideration, and the White House would respond there was no rush -- Senate Republicans were blocking too many nominees anyway.
It wasn't too long ago that judicial vacancies had reached a crisis level, and the problem seemed intractable with dozens of qualified Obama nominees stuck in Senate quicksand.
Slowly but surely, however, there's been some amazing progress on the issue. The Associated Press reported this morning:

No longer impeded by Republican blocking tactics, Democrats are on track to win confirmation of up to 88 of President Barack Obama's top judicial nominations this year, a total that would be the highest for any president in two decades. Last year, Democrats made it harder for Republicans to derail Obama's nominations by weakening the Senate's rule on filibusters. So far this year, the chamber has approved 76 federal court of appeals and district court judges, all of them lifetime appointments.

To put that 76 figure in context, the Senate confirmed 43 judicial nominees in 2013 and 49 in 2012.
Also note, this year's total isn't done. Thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) blunder, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was able to move 12 more judicial nominees towards confirmation this week, which may ultimately bring the overall total for the year to 88 -- more than double last year's tally, and the most since Bill Clinton's second year in office.
As of this minute, 291 of Obama's judicial nominees have been confirmed to the federal bench -- one more than Reagan at this point in his sixth year, 37 more than W. Bush, and just seven fewer than Clinton. If, however, the 12 pending nominees are approved this week, Obama will be outpacing them all.
Brookings' Russell Wheeler told the AP that Obama and the Democratic-led Senate have "changed the face of the judiciary."
The rest of the AP article makes clear just how true that is:

Of Obama's judges confirmed so far, 42 percent have been women, 19 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic, the White House said. That exceeded the percentages of his immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Clinton, the White House said. Another measure of Obama's impact is on federal appeals courts, which have enormous influence on their regions of the country and can be conduits for cases to reach the Supreme Court. When he took office, 10 of the 13 appeals courts had more judges appointed by Republican than Democratic presidents. Now the balance has switched, with Democratic-appointed majorities on nine of the courts. Most significantly, that includes the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia, considered the nation's second-most powerful court because its jurisdiction includes actions by the White House and federal agencies.

Of course, for the White House, Senate Democrats, or anyone else who wants to see the courts move in a more progressive direction, the good news is poised to come to a screeching halt. Dems have controlled the Senate for each of the last eight years -- and for all of the Obama presidency -- which generally made it possible to advance many of the White House's preferred jurists. A Republican-led Senate begins next month, at which point, the confirmation process will slow to crawl, if not a complete stop.
In the meantime, though, this is the part of a president's legacy that will matter long after he or she has left office.