Slideshow: The Senate’s Broken Confirmation Process

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Congress has been historically unproductive in recent years, a development in part attributable to the increasing popularity of the filibuster. This has meant longer waits for presidential nominees and appointees before they are confirmed. In some cases, holdovers from the Bush administration continue to work on expired terms, waiting for replacements that never come. In others, agencies go about their business with “acting” directors, or with no one at the helm. The effect is widespread, crippling agencies from the financial regulatory system and the commissions that oversee elections to health care administrators and the justice system.


William J. Kayatta, Jr. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July, 1, 2010, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Federal Judges

There are 81 vacancies on federal appeals and district courts representing nearly 10 percent of all seats in the federal judicial system. A third of those empty seats are considered “emergencies” because the seats have gone unfilled for so long. Currently, 33 judges are awaiting Senate confirmation. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, during the 112th Congress, it has taken an average of 188 days to confirm a judicial nominee.

One nominee stuck in legislative limbo is William Kayatta, a judge from Maine, who some consider a “slam-dunk candidate.” Kayatta has been waiting to be confirmed by the Senate for over a year. Despite bipartisan support, including raves from his state’s two Republican senators, Kayatta’s nomination never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

In a 2011 New York Times article about the growing list of unconfirmed nominees, one former Hill staffer explained that the candidates’ records and reputations are beside the point. “This isn’t about any particular appointee — Ben Franklin could come back to life and they would oppose him,” said Mr. Engelhard, a former Republican aide on the House Financial Services Committee.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s a stain on democracy that justice is un-rendered by the disfunctional, artificial Filibuster farce.

  • Lea Margaret Barlow

    With the exception of those who have just been elected for their first time we need to throw the whole damn lot of them out. They are the biggest do nothing bunch ever to see the light of day. They should all be ashamed to cash their paychecks not a nickel of which have they earned. We all know that none of them have any shame. But, I am certainly ashamed for them, and of them. I suppose we the people should be ashamed of ourselves too for tolerating such behavior.

  • kokuaguy

    I hope the POTUS uses the SOTU address to highlight this travesty and lambaste the Congress for allowing such a ridiculous state of affairs to be a hindrance to the effective workings of the federal government.

  • David Rittenour

    There are a few good ones up there, like Bernie Sanders from Vermont, but otherwise I agree; Jack Cafferty (CNN) said pretty much the same thing a good 6+ years ago I believe; throw them all out. A huge part of the problem, however, is that a lot of these self-serving pricks are either popular in their home districts and/or have rigged their elections via gerrymandering (redrawing districts). It’s appalling what’s happened to the country and I’m starting to seriously wonder about Jefferson’s “bloody renewal” statement. I give Obama some credit for trying, but these people – on both sides – are in it for themselves first and the country as an afterthought. I could go on for hours on the subject, so I’ll sum it up with a couple easy fixes – go back to having the Governors appointing Senators (the senate is supposed to be a check against the house and therefor should NOT be elected – why was that ever changed?) and change the house elections to be every 4 years the same as the Presidential, so you get one president and one congress.