WASHINGTON -- With a near-record number of vacancies on the federal bench and the likelihood that Congress will pass a measure to create dozens more, President Clinton is expected to name hundreds of judges over the next four years and dramatically alter the judicial landscape after 12 years of Republican appointments.
Between them, Presidents Reagan and Bush appointed 584 judges to the federal courts -- the Supreme Court, the U.S. district and appellate courts and special panels like the Court of International Trade.
But of the 828 federal judgeships, 115 are now vacant. Because an average of 10 judges are now retiring each month, experts say Mr. Clinton is likely to have the chance to fill at least half the federal judgeships before his term is out.
And because the president has vowed to name scores of female and minority judges, it is likely that the complexion of the judiciary will change as well.
"There will not be an ideological blood test, like there was during the Reagan and Bush years, to see if the candidate is a moderate or liberal," says Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., who heads the Judiciary Committee. "But there will be an insistence upon diversity. If a senator sends five college roommates in a row, he's not going to get them."
Even as the administration begins to fill immediate vacancies, Congress is widely expected to enlarge the judiciary and provide the White House with more positions to fill.
Lawmakers and some judges say the new positions are needed to cope with the increasing number of federal cases and appeals, although critics, including some federal judges who happen to be Democrats, contend that the increase is not necessary. Others say it is merely a convenient form of political patronage.
Last September the Judicial Conference, the policy making arm of the federal judiciary that is headed by the chief justice of the United States, William H. Rehnquist, recommended to Congress that it create 25 new judicial positions.