Saturday, May 21, 2005

Fuzzy Math on Judicial Nominees

Bo-bo-bo-bo, my friends, I'm speaking to you live with half my head stuck up my fundament, and I've got to tell you, these obstructionist liberals and the way they've treated George W. Bush's judicial nominees, bo-bo-bo-bo, thump-thump, even the left-wing loonies at the New York Times admit that Bush has the lowest nomination acceptance rate of any president in recent history...

The Times report all the right wing pundits are quoting does, in fact, show that Bush's 53% success rate with appeals court nominees is the lowest of any president going back to Truman. What they aren't telling their loyal audience is that the cherry picked statistic is misleading, and most of their audience won't bother (or won't be able) to think through the brainwash.

To begin with, appellate nominees count for a small fraction of total federal judges nominated by a president. Back of the envelope algebra tells you that if 10 were blocked and 53% were approved, the total number nominated was 21. That's a tiny sample when you're comparing percentage figures, especially when you consider that Clinton's success rate with appellate nominees (the second lowest going back to Truman) was only 59%. So we're talking about less than a handful of appellate judges' difference between Clinton and Bush II.

More significantly, the Times article also reveals that Bush leads Clinton in district court nomination success 87% to 81%. Since the lower district courts outnumber the higher appellate circuits by almost nine to one, it's fairly easy to arrive at agreement with the Times' conclusion that "The current president's batting average is roughly on par with Mr. Clinton's."

The conservative echo chamber isn't bouncing that reality around the airwaves, the print media, or the blogosphere. It also isn't reporting that the Times figures show that 50 Bush court nominees have been confirmed per year, in contrast to Clinton's track record of 45 annually, or that Bush's numeric success rate is second among post-Eisenhower presidents only to Carter's.

So the conservative rant over Bush's nomination confirmation rate is a gas balloon.

But there's gas on the other side of the aisle too.

Ted Kennedy and the rest of the Democratic Party have some 'splainin' to do about their claim that they've approved 95% of Bush's nominees. Though you can't see any of the background numbers in the Times' statistics*, even a mathematically challenged English major like me can tell that 53% of appellate judge nominees plus 87% of circuit judges can't add up to much more than 85% of total nominees.

A number of things might explain this discrepancy. The Dems' bean counters might have dismissed district court candidates who withdrew their names from nomination because of illness, family issues, closet skeletons, or what have you. Times may have counted judges that haven't come up before committee yet, and the Dems may not have. And we can't tell for sure when the Dems and the Times took their statistical snapshots. If Times did its numbers on Wednesday and four district judges got approved on Thursday, the Dems' number might be more accurate and up to date.

So the whole issue on Bush's nomination success rate is really a wash. It's just a shame that the Democrats aren't better organized, and can't get their story straight before they open their mouths and crush their heels into their pee-pees.

At the end of the day, I can tolerate the rhetorical stink from the left on this issue, but I wouldn't risk lighting a match in a closed room with the right.

* I searched high and low at government and mainstream media sites for raw data on nominee confirmations and couldn't find the information anywhere. If anyone knows of a reliable source on this information, I'd love to hear about it. I find it a sad sign of our information culture when an issue like this generates so much sound and fury, but a reasonably skilled researcher can't find the basic data that should be readily available for accurately framing the debate.

Fuzzier and Fuzzier:

A friend just sent this link to a Washington Post article from December 2004 that states:

"Republicans say that Democrats have abused the filibuster by blocking 10 of the president's 229 judicial nominees in his first term."

This would substantiate the Dems' 95% acceptance claim (the exact percentage is 95.633188...). I'd guess that judges not confirmed by means other than filibuster would account for the discrepancy between the Dems' claim and NYT's numbers.

It's clear we're getting jived from both sides of this issue. And, as I said before, it's a shame we can't get a straightforward presentation of the raw data to decide who's jiving us the least.


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