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Biden wants to fill federal court seats – but he needs to win the Senate first

During the disastrous first presidential debate in September, Donald Trump mocked Barack Obama, and Joe Biden by extension, for leaving office with so many federal court seats unfilled.

“I’ll have so many judges because President Obama and him left me 128 judges to fill,” Trump said, slightly inflating the 105 vacancies he inherited. “When you leave office, you don’t leave any judges. That’s like, you just don’t do that … If you left us 128 openings, you can’t be a good president.

But as is often the case with Trump’s attacks, there is much more to the story than that. It is true that Trump inherited nearly twice as many federal court vacancies as Obama did in 2009. However, Democrats blamed the high number of vacancies on what they described as an unprecedented level of obstruction from Republicans after they took control of the Senate in 2015.

Over Trump’s lone term as president, he and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have successfully remade the federal judiciary, and Democrats are anxious to confirm liberal judges once Biden takes office. But some Democratic lawmakers are already voicing concern that Republicans will once again obstruct judicial nominations if they keep the Senate by winning at least one of the Georgia runoff races next month.

Dick Durbin, who is seeking to become the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, raised that concern in late November, predicting Biden would have “very little” impact on the federal judiciary if Republicans maintain control of the chamber.

“If the last two years of the Obama administration were any indication, they’ll freeze them out,” Durbin told Politico. “Hope springs eternal, but I believe in history.”

Daniel Goldberg, the legal director of the progressive Alliance for Justice, said Durbin’s comments underscored the importance of the Georgia Senate elections. If Democrats were to win both of the 5 January runoff races, the Senate would be 50-50, and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris could provide a tie-breaking 51st vote.

“I think Senator Durbin just made clear how important the Georgia elections are. The stakes could not be higher,” Goldberg said.

If Republicans were to win at least one of the Georgia races and keep control of the Senate, Chuck Grassley is expected to chair the judiciary committee, and the Iowa senator would have the ability to block Biden’s nominees from receiving hearings.

“If Grassley decides to play hardball, he could just not bring them up for hearings, and there’s nothing the other side can do,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston and an adjunct scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute. Read from source….