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Since President Obama took office, only 41 of his judicial nominees have been confirmed by the Senate. Republicans have raised procedural objections to many candidates, leaving 104 federal judge spots unfilled right now.
Today, five of the most problematic nominees returned to the Judiciary Committee, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON: Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions says he thought the GOP had sent President Obama a message when they blocked five judge candidates, forcing the White House to re-nominate them.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): For each of these nominees, Republicans have voiced very specific objections and detailed concerns. These five nominees were returned with the hope that the president would reconsider, and yet he has persisted.
JOHNSON: Some Republican aides have come up with a nickname for them. They're calling them the Fringe Five.
Today, four of the five broke through a sharply-divided Senate Judiciary Committee and got a pass through to the full Senate, again. The committee adjourned before they were able to vote on another candidate, Second Circuit nominee, Robert Chatigny.
These days, nothing is assured when it comes to judges and the Senate. Just listen to Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy talk about the White House's most controversial selection, California law professor Goodwin Liu and his familiarity with the Judiciary Committee.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (D-Vermont, Chairman, Judiciary Committee): I would note that we have debated Goodwin Liu over and over again. And at some point, we keep on debating, it would cause everybody to vote maybe. At some point we ought to do what senators are supposed to do, either vote yes or no.
JOHNSON: The main problem for Republicans: Liu is only 39 years old. And he's widely mentioned as a possible candidate for the Supreme Court, if only Mr. Obama could get him on to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court first.
It's still not clear if and when Liu will get his chance on the Senate floor. Time is running out before the November recess, and even the lame duck session when Congress returns could fill up with other priorities.
Asian-American legal groups are concerned about Liu and another judge nominee, Edward Chen.
Wendy Chang is advocating for both of them.
Mr. WENDY CHANG (Judiciary Committee Member, National Pacific American Bar Association): We think that our representation in the federal courts is disproportionately low. And these two particular candidates are so exceptionally well-qualified for these positions, and they are truly reflective of our community and the American dream that so many of us live through.
Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): Presidential elections have consequences and Professor Liu's nomination is exactly that: a consequence of the president winning. My problem with Goodwin Liu is that I believe he'll violate his oath as soon as he takes it.
JOHNSON: That's Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn. He and the other six Republicans on the Judiciary Committee worry about Liu. They say some of his speeches to progressive legal groups signal that his thinking is outside the mainstream.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein tried to tamp down those fears.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I spent four hours with this man. I questioned him. And he's a remarkable young man. He is strongly supported. And yet, this speech or that speech is essentially likely to kill his candidacy.
JOHNSON: This week in California, Liu's supporters passed out bumper stickers and served a sheet cake, with a slogan demanding his confirmation now. But seven months after the White House announced Liu's candidacy, his supporters have grown accustomed to waiting.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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