Robe & Gavel: Federal Judicial Vacancy Count released for December 1

Welcome to the Dec. 6 edition of Robe & Gavel, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S.

Happy holidays, gentle readers! Let’s gather together one last time in 2021, for Auld Lang Syne’s sake, to review the latest from SCOTUS and the federal judiciary. Let’s gavel in, shall we?

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We #SCOTUS and you can, too!


SCOTUS has accepted no new cases to its merits docket since our Nov. 30 issue. 

To date, the court has agreed to hear 50 cases for the 2021-2022 term. SCOTUS dismissed four cases after they were accepted and removed one case from the argument calendar after both parties agreed to settle. Nine cases have yet to be scheduled for arguments.


The Supreme Court will hear arguments in five cases this week. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term.

Click the links below to learn more about these cases:

Dec. 6

Dec. 7

Dec. 8

In its October 2020 term, SCOTUS heard arguments in 62 cases. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ previous term.


SCOTUS has not issued any rulings since our Nov. 30 edition.

To date, the court has issued decisions in three cases. Two cases were decided without argument. Between 2007 and 2020, SCOTUS released opinions in 1,062 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 decided cases per year.

Upcoming SCOTUS dates

Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:

  • Dec. 6: 
    • SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
    • SCOTUS will release orders.
  • Dec. 7: SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.
  • Dec. 8: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
  • Dec. 10: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
  • Dec. 13: SCOTUS will release orders.

SCOTUS trivia

Welcome back to another edition of Name That Court! Read the following description of a historical Supreme Court, named after its chief justice, and select the court you think it describes.

The _____ Court was both brief and important. It helped to establish the rights of the president, states, laws, and court system. Decisions during the _____ Court created the definition of ex post facto laws and clarified rights of the president. The _____ Court ensured a stronger system of checks and balances and highlighted the importance of Congress by determining that the president did not have the power to amend the Constitution.

  1. The Marshall Court
  2. The Jay Court
  3. The Chase Court
  4. The Ellsworth Court

Choose an answer to find out!

The Federal Vacancy Count

The Federal Vacancy Count tracks vacancies, nominations, and confirmations to all United States Article III federal courts in a one-month period. The November report includes nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from Nov. 2 through Dec. 1. 


  • Vacancies: There have been two new judicial vacancies from Nov. 2 through Dec. 1. There are 74 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 78 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.  
  • Nominations: There have been 11 new nominations from Nov. 2 through Dec. 1. 
  • Confirmations: There have been no new confirmations from Nov. 2 through Dec. 1.

Vacancy count for December 1, 2021

A breakdown of the vacancies at each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies in the federal courts, click here.

*Though the U.S. territorial courts are named as district courts, they are not Article III courts. They are established by Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Click here for more information.

New vacancies

Two judges left active status since the previous vacancy count published on Nov. 1, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies. The president nominates individuals to fill Article III judicial positions. Nominations are subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies in the United States Courts of Appeals from the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) to the date indicated on the chart.

U.S. District Court vacancies

The following map shows the number of vacancies in the United States District Courts as of December 1, 2021.

New nominations

President Joe Biden (D) announced 11 new nominations since the November 2021 report.

Biden has announced 62 Article III judicial nominations since taking office on Jan. 20, 2021. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.

New confirmations

There were no new confirmations in November.

Since January 2021, the Senate has confirmed 28 of President Biden’s judicial nominees—19 district court judges and nine appeals court judges.

The first confirmations occurred on June 8, 2021, when Julien Xavier Neals and Regina Rodriguez were confirmed to their respective courts. 

Ketanji Brown Jackson was the first confirmed nominee to receive her judicial commission. The Senate confirmed Jackson on June 14, 2021, and she was commissioned on June 17.

Comparison of Article III judicial appointments over time by president (1981-Present)

  • Presidents have made an average of 21 judicial appointments through Dec. 1 of their first year in office. 
  • President Ronald Reagan has made the most appointments, 30, while President Barack Obama (D) made the fewest appointments with 11.  
  • President Reagan’s 41 appointments were the most through the first year. President Obama made the fewest with 13.
  • President Donald Trump’s (R) 234 appointments are the most appointments through four years. President Reagan made the fewest through four years with 166.

Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.

Or, keep an eye on this list for updates on federal judicial nominations.

Spotlight: Presidential nominations to federal courts

Hello, gentle readers! Don your toque and pull on your frock coat as our ongoing journey through federal judicial history now crosses the threshold from the twentieth to the nineteenth century! Today, we visit the years between 1897 and 1901, highlighting President William McKinley’s (R) federal judicial nominees. 

During his time in office, the U.S. Senate confirmed 35 of President McKinley’s judicial nominees. The Senate did not vote on four nominees.

Among the most notable appointees was one Supreme Court justice:

By the end of his first year in office, five of President McKinley’s nominees had been confirmed. Four nominees were confirmed to U.S. District Courts, one was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Looking ahead

We’ll be back next year on Jan. 10, 2022, with a new edition of Robe & Gavel. Until then, gaveling out! 


Kate Carsella compiled and edited this newsletter, with contributions from Brittony Maag, Jace Lington, and Sara Reynolds.