A disagreement between the Congressional Black Caucus and the Obama administration over judicial nominees in Georgia is broadening into a standoff between the president and members of the CBC who warn that the administration is overseeing a federal bench with “an inexcusable and unjustifiable lack of racial diversity that must be addressed.”
In addition to a Capitol Hill press conference planned to push the administration to nominate more African-Americans to the federal bench, The Daily Beast has obtained a letter to the president signed by 41 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (PDF) calling on him to fill two federal district court vacancies in Alabama with African Americans. More broadly, they also take Obama to task for not doing more to ensure that his federal judicial nominees reflect the racial makeup of the communities they preside over.
Several members of the CBC were already livid with the president for nominating a slate of six judicial nominees to fill Georgia vacancies that included just one African-American, as well as a one white nominee who had once voted for the state to keep the Confederate flag as a part of its official flag. In their letter, the CBC members said they were pushing to prevent a similar slate of nominees in Alabama.
“Given the history of judicial appointments in Alabama, we strongly encourage you to nominate qualified African-Americans to the district court bench until the court’s racial composition reasonably reflects the state’s black population,” the members wrote. Out of Alabama’s 14 federal judgeships, one is held by an African-American.
Beyond the Alabama bench, CBC members also voiced alarm at what they see as a dangerous lack of racial diversity among Obama judicial nominees across the country. Of Obama’s 173 confirmed federal district nominees since 2009, the CBC members note that just 32 are African-American. Of the 42 federal district nominees currently pending, eight are African American.
But the problem may be as much the U.S. Senate confirming the judges as with the administration. A process known as “blue slipping” a nominee gives every senator full veto authority over the names that the administration nominates in that senator’s state. A suggestion put forth by the president will only be as successful as the home-state senators allow them to be.
But a senior Democratic aide with knowledge of the CBC’s conversations with the White House says that the White House has continually bypassed input from CBC members and outside interest groups like the NAACP on judicial nominations, leaving diversity on the bench and the Cabinet as a side issue.
“They stonewall us just like they stonewall the rest of Congress,” the staffer said. But as the nation’s first black president, CBC members had expected more out of Obama. “Hopes were higher,” the staffer said.