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Senate Moves on Surgeon General, Judicial Nominees

Senate Moves on Surgeon General, Judicial Nominees

December 16, 2014 — The Senate on Monday confirmed Vivek Murthy as the nation's surgeon general and is expected this week to confirm several of President Obama's judicial nominees, The Hill reports (Bolton, The Hill, 12/15).

Murthy's Confirmation

The Senate voted 51-43 to confirm Murthy, an internal medicine doctor, teacher at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a founder of Doctors for America (Peters, New York Times, 12/15).

Murthy was nominated to the surgeon general post, which had been vacant since July 2013, by President Obama in November 2013 (Chappell, "The Two Way," NPR, 12/15). Public health groups widely supported his nomination, and lawmakers had stressed the importance of having a surgeon general in place to help the public understand the Ebola outbreak (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 12/15).

Conservative Opposition Over Gun Control, Contraception

Murthy's confirmation was held up chiefly because of opposition from the National Rifle Association, which objected to his past statements describing gun violence as a public health issue and pressured lawmakers to oppose him ("The Two Way," NPR, 12/15).

However, Murthy said during his confirmation hearing that he does not plan "to use the surgeon general's office as a bully pulpit for gun control" and instead will focus on "obesity prevention" (CQ Roll Call, 12/15). Child vaccinations and reducing tobacco use will also be priorities, he said.

Murthy has expressed support for contraception, praising the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) for providing women with "choice and access to contraception." When Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) asked him about his views on contraception in February, Murthy said they were "informed by science" and that access to contraception is good for maternal health (Healy, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/15).

Reaction to Murthy's Confirmation

American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin called Murthy's confirmation a "critical step in the right direction that will lead to more positive health outcomes" (CQ Roll Call, 12/15).

National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra Ness noted in a statement that Murthy "has won support from more than 100 of the nation's most highly respected medical and public health organizations and several former surgeons general." She added that "[s]pecial interest groups must not be allowed to choose the country's top doctor" and that "Murthy should have been confirmed quickly and without controversy" (NPWF statement, 12/15).

Federal Judges Set for Confirmation

Meanwhile, the Senate is poised to confirm a dozen of Obama's nominees to be U.S. District Court judges by the end of the week, The Hill's "Floor Action" reports (Cox, "Floor Action," The Hill, 12/15).

According to the AP/San Francisco Chronicle, the confirmations will bring the total number of confirmed federal appeals and district court judges nominated under Obama this year to 88, compared with 43 who were confirmed in 2013 and 49 who were confirmed in 2012.

In addition, the dozen confirmations would bring the total number of such judges confirmed under Obama during his six years to 303. According to the White House, 42% of the judges confirmed during Obama's presidency have been women, 19% have been black and 11% Hispanic, higher percentages than former presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

Further, Obama's nominations over his six years have resulted in a shift from 10 of 13 federal appeals courts having a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents to nine of 13 federal appeals courts having a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents.

Brookings Institution scholar Russell Wheeler said Obama has "changed the face of the judiciary." However, he added, that "[w]hether or not that will have a long-term impact ... is another question." According to the AP/Chronicle, judges do not necessarily end up ruling in line with the positions of presidents who nominate them (Fram, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/16).