Obama moving ahead with circuit nominations — a Third Circuit nominee on the horizon?

Last month, I predicted:

My guess, not based on any insider information, is that the cause of the nomination delay is that Toomey is dragging out nomination negotiations with Obama as long as he possibly can. At some point, Obama would give up hope and submit a doomed nomination, but until then Toomey may have little to gain from signing off of any nominee.

President Obama still hasn’t named a nominee for the Rendell seat, but new reporting by Charlie Savage in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that the dynamic I described has begun to play out for other circuit openings:

At the time, there were eight vacancies on the appeals courts, but Mr. Obama had submitted the name of only one nominee: Luis Felipe Restrepo, a District Court judge in Philadelphia. He had Republican backing, and the Senate confirmed him last month.

Mr. Obama submitted no other names, according to administration officials, because the vacancies were in states that had at least one Republican senator, and those senators had refused to preapprove any nominee.

Traditionally, preapproval is part of the nomination process. The Senate Judiciary Committee generally does not schedule a hearing for a nominee without the consent of both senators from the state in which the seat is based, regardless of party.

Starting last month, Mr. Obama quietly broke with that tradition. He has now submitted nominees to fill four of those longstanding vacancies, even though none had preapproval from Republican senators. In an interview last week, Neil Eggleston, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, said the president had moved forward because he hoped Republican senators would permit at least some to go through.

“The calendar was running out, and it was time to get moving,” Mr. Eggleston said. “At some point the process just has to get started.”

The article paints a mixed picture on Obama’s success filling circuit openings:

If he makes no more appointments to the regional appeals courts, Mr. Obama will leave at least 12 vacancies to his successor, counting seats that recently came open or are expected to by the end of the year. By that measure, Mr. Obama’s appeals court record would be about the same as Mr. Bush’s and better than that of Mr. Clinton — who also had trouble with a Republican Senate and left more than two dozen seats open.

But by other measures, Mr. Obama is on track to be a historical anomaly. He has appointed just 48 judges to the regional appeals courts so far, while Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton each appointed more than 60.

The gap between Mr. Obama’s numbers and his recent predecessors’ occurred in the final two years of their presidencies. Mr. Obama appears likely to appoint the fewest such judges during that period of any president since Congress created the courts of appeal in 1891, with one exception: President Grover Cleveland, who named none in the two years before he left office in 1897.

But Cleveland had no vacancies to fill.