Our weekly summary of federal news highlights a SCOTUS ruling on a Texas abortion law and COVID-19 booster shots authorized for 16 and 17 year olds. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the Federal Tap.
Note: We will not be publishing The Federal Tap on Dec. 25 or Jan. 2. We’ll return to your inboxes on Jan. 8. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones from all of us at Ballotpedia!
Congress is in/out of session
Both the House and Senate are in session next week. Click here to see the full calendar for the first session of the 117th Congress.
SCOTUS is out of session
The Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments next week. To learn about the 2021-2022 term, click here.
Where was the president last week?
On Monday and Tuesday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, Biden traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee, where he surveyed storm damage and delivered remarks.
On Thursday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, Biden traveled to Orangeburg, South Carolina, where he delivered remarks at South Carolina State University’s 2021 Fall Commencement Ceremony. After delivering remarks, Biden traveled to his private residence in Wilmington, Delaware.
Opinion polling comparison during the Trump and Biden administrations
President Biden’s approval rating for the 46th week of his term was 42.5%, up 0.5 percentage points from the week before. President Trump’s approval rating at the same point in his term was 39.5%, up 0.4 percentage points from the week before.
- 79 federal judicial vacancies
- 35 pending nominations
- 38 future federal judicial vacancies
Upcoming Article III Judicial Vacancies
According to the latest vacancy data from the U.S. Courts, there were 39 total announced upcoming vacancies for Article III judgeships. The earliest vacancy announcement was on Jan. 21, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Judge Vanessa Gilmore announced that she would retire on Jan. 2, 2022. The most recent was on Dec. 13, 2021, when U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz announced she would assume senior status upon the confirmation of her successor. Twenty-one vacancy effective dates have not been determined because the judge has not announced the date they will leave the bench.
For historical comparison, the week of Dec. 13-19, 2020, there were 55 vacancies and five upcoming vacancies in the federal judiciary reported by the U.S. Courts.
Three nominees confirmed to federal judgeships
This week, the U.S. Senate confirmed three of President Joe Biden’s (D) federal judicial nominees to lifetime Article III judgeships:
- Jennifer Sung, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, by a vote of 50-49 on Dec. 15
- Samantha Elliott, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, by a vote of 62-37 on Dec. 15
To date, 31 of Biden’s appointees have been confirmed. For historical comparison since 1981, the following list shows the date by which the past six presidents had 31 Article III judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate:
- President Donald Trump (R) – April 12, 2018
- President Barack Obama (D) – June 15, 2010
- President George W. Bush (R) – Feb. 4, 2002
- President Bill Clinton (D) – Feb. 10, 1994
- President George H.W. Bush (R) – April 27, 1990
- President Ronald Reagan (R) – Dec. 3, 1981
As of this writing, 13 Article III nominees are awaiting a confirmation vote from the U.S Senate, 15 nominees are awaiting a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to advance their nominations to the full Senate, and 12 nominees are awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held an executive business meeting on Dec. 16 to consider the nominations of four individuals and vote on whether the nominees will be reported favorably to the full Senate. The results of the meeting are pending.
SCOTUS issues ruling concerning Texas abortion law
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a ruling on Dec. 10 in the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, involving Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). The court allowed Texas abortion providers to pursue pre-enforcement actions against certain state officials but not others. A pre-enforcement action permits those affected by a law—in this case, the Texas abortion providers—to challenge the law in court before it’s enforced against them. SCOTUS allowed the law to remain in effect while the case is returned to the lower courts.
The Supreme Court partially upheld and partially reversed the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas’ order denying the state officials motions to dismiss, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
In an 8-1 opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court held that abortion providers may file federal lawsuits against Texas state licensing officials to prevent them from enforcing the provisions of SB 8—such as taking disciplinary action against a doctor who violates the law—under an exception to the sovereign immunity doctrine established in Ex parte Young (1908). Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenting justice to this part of the opinion. The court also ruled by a 5-4 vote that the abortion providers cannot sue state judges and clerks to block them from trying private lawsuits under SB 8. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett were in the majority, and Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented.
The court noted that its decision did not address the constitutionality of SB 8 itself.
Ballotpedia’s The Heart of the Primaries delivered weekly starting Jan. 6
Texas will hold the first primary elections of the 2022 midterms on March 1. North Carolina was scheduled to hold the second statewide primary on March 8, but a recent state supreme court decision postponed those primaries until May.
What do these primaries—and the hundreds of others approaching—mean for the direction of the major parties and the nation?
We have stories on these primaries and more in our third issue of The Heart of the Primaries, which went out Dec. 16. Starting in January, we’ll send out one Democratic version and one Republican version of The Heart of the Primaries each week, allowing you to follow stories happening within the party you care most about (or both!).
Click here to subscribe and to read previous issues.
Booster coronavirus vaccinations authorized for 16 and 17 year olds
On Dec. 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer’s booster vaccine for individuals aged 16 and 17. Shortly after the FDA’s announcement, the Centers for Disease Control updated its booster recommendations to include that age group. Pfizer first announced it would seek the authorization on Nov. 30. Individuals in the expanded age range, like those 18 and older, can receive booster doses six months after receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The CDC and FDA authorized the Pfizer booster for adults 18 and older on Nov. 19, ten days after the company announced it had applied for the authorization. At least 15 states approved the booster vaccine for all adults in the days leading up to the federal government’s authorization, beginning with California on Nov. 9.
The CDC announced on Nov. 29 that it was strengthening its recommendation regarding booster vaccines, saying: “the recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19.”
New Mexico enacts congressional maps; Connecticut, Virginia expected to adopt redistricting measures next week
The Connecticut Reapportionment Commission faces a Dec. 21 deadline to complete the state’s congressional redistricting after the state supreme court had granted the commission a three-week extension from its original Nov. 30 deadline. The Connecticut Supreme Court had taken control of the redistricting process on Dec. 1 after the first deadline had passed.
The nine-member commission consists of four Democratic state lawmakers, four Republican state lawmakers, and one Republican former state representative who the other commission members selected. The commission took over the redistricting process after the state’s eight-member Reapportionment Committee did not meet its Sept. 15 deadline. Unlike the committee, the Reapportionment Commission’s maps did not need approval from the General Assembly. The commission unanimously approved state legislative maps in November.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed legislation on Dec. 17 enacting new boundaries for the state’s three congressional districts. The legislature had approved the redistricting measure strictly along party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against. The state Senate approved the maps on Dec. 10 and the state House approved them on Dec. 11. Robert Nott of the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote that the proposal “gives Democrats a comfortable lead in all three congressional districts.” The current party affiliation of New Mexico’s U.S. House members is two Democrats and one Republican. New Mexico is the 20th state to complete congressional redistricting after the 2020 census.
The Supreme Court of Virginia is expected to approve final congressional and legislative maps on Dec. 19. Two special masters that the court had selected on Nov. 19 released proposed district boundaries on Dec. 8. Virginia Mercury’s Peter Galuszka wrote that the maps “tend to favor Democrats more than Republicans because they are concentrated around natural social centers, such as cities.”
This was the first redistricting cycle after Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 establishing a commission-led redistricting process. However, that commission missed its deadlines, sending authority to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which, in turn, named the two special masters—one nominated by Democrats and one by Republicans.