At this point in their first terms, Bill Clinton had had nine federal judges confirmed and George W Bush eight—but Barack Obama has got only three judges through, despite sending 23 names to the Democratic-controlled Senate. Part of the problem is Republican obstructionists who've threatened filibusters and used parliamentary techniques to hold up proceedings. But liberal activists say Obama's team is shying from a fight, leading to federal benches with gaping vacancies.
The White House and Republicans both say that the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor occupied much of the administration's focus. But appeals courts do much of the heavy lifting in American law, and Bush succeeded in packing their ranks with so-called strict constructionists. Liberals say the president has to get moving this year; by 2010, says one advocate, "Republicans will make an all-out effort to block candidates as a means to gin up their base before the election."