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Time running out on judicial picks

With time running out in this session of Congress, President Obama's most disputed judicial nominations, including that of University of California Berkeley Law Professor Goodwin Liu, are set to expire without a Senate vote.

In the past four days, the Senate approved 12 without opposition. They included Albert Diaz, a North Carolina state judge who won a unanimous vote of the Judiciary Committee in January. He will join the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

But despite successes on other fronts, Obama will finish his first two years in office with far fewer of his judges confirmed by the Senate than those of any other recent president.

As of Monday, the Senate had confirmed 53 of Obama's nominees to be judges on federal district or appeals courts. Senate aides said they expected at least seven more nominees would be approved before adjournment, since they have Republican backing and no opposition.

President Bill Clinton won approval for 126 lower court judges in his first two years in office. President George W. Bush had 100 judges confirmed during his first two years.

Obama has had a strong majority of Democrats in the Senate, and it takes only a simple majority vote of 50 to confirm a judge. But a single senator can block a vote by objecting, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has used that privilege to block votes on the Obama nominees who are opposed by most of the Republicans.

Liu is well-regarded among liberals and legal scholars, but he testified against Justice Samuel A. Alito when President Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court. Republicans have cited that testimony as reason for opposing Liu's confirmation.

In another development, federal workers would face a two-year pay freeze under a spending bill that Congress will take up this week to keep the government operating through March 4.

The bill also would protect student Pell grants, veteran's benefits and a program that helps low-income families pay their heating bills. A small business loan program would be extended.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled a procedural vote on the bill this morning, and the Senate could pass the measure later today, sending it to the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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