Obama and Judicial Appointments

Well that was a restorative weekend, right? Great weather, the Dolphins won, Ted Ginn didn’t suck, so already things seem to be getting a little better. And yes, the windsurfing was sublime.

Here’s an interesting article on the number of judicial appointments at the district and appellate level that Obama will likely be making in the near-term. Note his ability to help moderate the deeply conservative 4th Circuit:

By contrast, 14 seats are open on appeals courts or will be by the end of January. Democratic appointees are a majority on only one of the 13 federal appeals courts, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

These are the courts that as a practical matter have the final say on everyday issues that affect millions of people because the Supreme Court accepts less than 2 percent of the cases appealed to the justices.

“Most of the action is in the lower courts, from labor and employment law to civil rights to punitive damages to affirmative action and how the death penalty is administered,” said Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.

The traditionally conservative 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., is the first court on which Obama can change the balance of power quickly. It has four openings and is divided now between five judges appointed by Republican presidents and five named by Democrat Bill Clinton.

Covering Maryland, the Carolinas and Virginia, the 4th Circuit hears a large share of national security and intelligence cases because Virginia is the home of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Shapiro estimates that within four years, Obama can name enough judges to give Democrats majorities on nine of the 13 appeals courts.

Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, has complained that Bush appointees have been more likely to rule in favor of executive authority, businesses in their disputes with workers and consumers, and limiting access to the courts.

Judges appointed by Obama can be expected to side more often with “workers, consumers, homeowners, women and people of color who were discriminated against,” Aron said.

I don’t know if it’s as reductionist as the writer paints it above, but certainly I’d like to see a rollback on the massively expanding doctrine of preemption in tort and products cases, more awareness of the nature of business misconduct and how it affects the average consumer, and of course a return to solid constitutional values that unfortunately we have strayed too often from over the last six or so years. Oh, and for gosh sakes, please close Gitmo.

Is that too much to ask?