Obama Gets High Marks For Diversifying The Bench The White House has taken some heat for its slow pace in nominating federal judges. But the administration has quietly pursued candidates who are far more diverse in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation than any of its predecessors, a move praised by many. But that strategy may have a cost.


Obama Gets High Marks For Diversifying The Bench

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More than half of these nominees, it turns out, are women and minorities. Despite the delays in the Senate, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports the White House has done more to diversify the ranks of federal judges than ever before.

CARRIE JOHNSON: When it comes to this White House and judges, there's a string of firsts - the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, the first openly gay man on a federal district court, and the first women nominees who are Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

KATHRYN RUEMMLER: It's a very important priority for the president.

JOHNSON: That's Kathryn Ruemmler, Mr. Obama's top lawyer in the White House.

RUEMMLER: Having racial diversity, gender diversity, experiential diversity, all of those things we are mindful of and committed to seeking out when we're looking for the best candidates.

JOHNSON: And Robert Raben, a Democratic lobbyist, says he gives this White House high marks.

ROBERT RABEN: Promises made, promises kept. President Obama and his team committed to improving the diversity on the federal bench, and they get an A-plus on that.

JOHNSON: That sentiment is far from universal. Ed Whelan is a prominent conservative. He used to work in the George W. Bush Justice Department.

ED WHELAN: The Obama administration doesn't have a coherent judicial philosophy, so it's not surprising that it's falling back on diversity, which I think it sees, among other things, appealing to its various political constituencies.

JOHNSON: Caroline Fredrickson leads the American Constitution Society. She's been following the judge nominees closely. Fredrickson says almost half of the 97 candidates who have won confirmation during Mr. Obama's presidency are women. About a quarter are black. And Mr. Obama is the first president to nominate four openly gay people.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Obama is nominating many more diverse nominees than his predecessors - strikingly so. But the nominees are not getting confirmed with the same kind of success.

JOHNSON: Some of the longest-waiting nominees, Louis Butler of Wisconsin, Charles Day of Maryland and Edward Dumont of Washington, happen to be black or openly gay.

FREDRICKSON: For women and minorities, it's just been a bigger hill to climb before they actually get a vote. And so for whatever the reasons, the facts speak for themselves.

WHELAN: It's not at all clear to me whether the focus on diversity has delayed the process, or whether other things have.

JOHNSON: Kathryn Ruemmler, the new White House counsel, says she's been meeting with Senators on both sides of the aisle to try to pave the way.

RUEMMLER: We want to really hit the ground running when the Senate comes back in September to get as many folks both nominated and confirmed as we possibly can in that window of time.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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