WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a case that questions four of President Barack Obama’s recess appointments and seeks to define the constitutional scope of the president’s authority to make appointments.
The case, involving four appointments the president made in January 2012 while the Senate was on its winter break but holding pro forma sessions every few days, is the latest battle in a string of struggles over nominations since Obama took office in 2009.
It returns attention to Obama’s many unconfirmed nominations, which include some Marylanders and Maryland district court positions.
“The process here has been way too slow. Normally we would’ve gotten a lot more consensus to get the non-controversial nominees (confirmed),” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin.
Critics say it hurts the government’s ability to function and is a result of partisan bickering in Congress.
“After some initial success, (Obama) has been a little bit slow compared to previous presidents, and I think that’s for the reasons that we all understand, which is the level of acrimony” in Congress, said David Lewis, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. “The extent to which there’s political fights over nominees is higher than in the past.”
On Friday, Obama nominated Marylander Dr. Deborah L. Birx to be the Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.
Cardin called Birx a “model Marylander” in a statement released Friday, adding that he looked forward to a swift confirmation process.
Two judicial nominees for the Maryland District Court, Theodore David Chuang and George Jarrod Hazel, also await confirmation. They were nominated in September.
Across the country more than 200 people are waiting to be confirmed for federal posts, according to the White House website.
A smaller percentage of Obama’s judicial nominees have been approved than those of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, according to an analysis by the American Constitution Society. At the same time, there have been more vacant judicial posts during Obama’s tenure than Bush’s.
Under the Constitution, the president appoints nominees to public office to fill posts in the Cabinet, courts and other federal agencies. Many require Senate confirmation.
A November Senate vote to change filibuster rules now allows the chamber to confirm presidential nominees for the executive and judiciary branches with a simple majority. Experts say this will ease the nomination process and help prevent the minority party from blocking confirmation votes.
“I suspect strongly that whatever we saw now will be overtaken… because the new confirmation rules in the Senate make it much more likely that the pace of nomination approvals will accelerate quite dramatically, as we saw in November and December,” said William A. Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
However, other federal positions still require the 60-vote supermajority that has historically slowed confirmations.
The posts slowest to get filled are those for employees responsible for planning and long-term management of federal organizations, Lewis said, which makes running the organizations more difficult.
“It’s terribly damaging for management in general and for morale,” he said.