Robert Kuttner points out that there "are now more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench, out of some 856 federal district and appellate judges, far more than on the day Obama took office":
While the Roberts Supreme Court gets most of the attention, in a typical year, the appellate courts review tens of thousands of cases, while the Supreme Court decides fewer than 100. Many key cases decided by courts of appeal either become the law of the land, or heavily influence how the Supreme Court decides a question. When a majority of district court and appeals court judges are conservatives and resolute liberal jurists are mostly absent, the entire dialogue shifts to the right. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, for example, held that “enemy combatants” could be jailed indefinitely without charge, undermined the right of criminal defendants to counsel, upheld Virginia’s mandatory parental notification law on abortions, overturned key portions of the Violence Against Woman Act and the Clean Water Act, denied Civil Rights Act remedies to workers subjected to racial epithets, and ruled that nicotine could not be regulated by the FDA as a drug.