When Obama became president in 2009, his former Republican colleagues in the Senate were not inclined to swiftly or easily approve his nominees to the courts. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader, repeatedly delayed votes on judges by invoking a different procedural rule. He refused to give unanimous consent to taking up nominations.
To compound the problem, Obama's team was slow getting started in 2009. The White House focused on winning approval for its first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. But Obama made only 43 nominations to the lower courts in his first year, less than half the rate of Bush, who made 89 nominations.
The slow start combined with the GOP's go-slow approach to reduce Obama's influence.
When the 112th Congress adjourned last week, the Senate had approved 175 of Obama's judges. By comparison, Bush had 206 judges approved in his first term, and President Bill Clinton had 204 judges confirmed during his first four years.
The number of court vacancies rose during Obama's term, from 57 to 75. During Bush's term, vacancies were reduced from 81 to 41.
Obama's team contributed to the delay by taking months to decide on nominations. But the White House says the Senate has taken far longer than normal to approve his nominees.
Under Bush and Clinton, judicial battles were mostly limited to the appellate courts. Under Obama, even district court nominees who used to win quick approval were held up. On average, it took 225 days for an Obama court nominee to win confirmation, up from 154 days in Bush's first term and 98 days in Clinton's.
On Thursday, the White House renominated 33 judicial candidates, including Halligan, who were left hanging when the Senate adjourned. They included nominees from Oklahoma and Maine who could not get a final vote despite strong support from their two home-state Republican senators.
Liberal advocates says the "slow walking" of Obama's nominees must change in the second term.
"We're hopeful. This level of obstruction is unacceptable and can't continue," said Marge Baker, vice president of People for the American Way.