NEW YORK, Nov 1 (Reuters) - The Senate last month confirmed 15 nominees to the federal bench, the busiest month so far this year.
The confirmations were a rare break from the partisan bickering that President Barack Obama has blamed for holding up his judicial choices.
Pressure on the administration to fill federal court vacancies, which hover at around 85, is mounting as the president nears the end of his term. In a presidential election year, the Senate typically slows activity on judicial nominations as the year progresses.
Yet in October, the Senate confirmed two appellate court nominees, Stephen Higginson to the Fifth Circuit and Henry Floyd to the Fourth Circuit. It also confirmed 13 district court nominees, including three nominees for Pennsylvania federal courts and three for New York federal courts: William Kuntz for the Eastern District, and Alison Nathan and Katherine Forrest for the Southern District.
Jennifer Zipps, too, was confirmed as a district court judge in Arizona. She filled the vacancy created when Judge John Roll was killed in January while attending a constituent event hosted by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
The flurry of confirmations was a breakthrough for the administration, which has accused Republicans of footdragging. Before the Senate's September recess, Senate majority leader Harry Reid helped hammer out a deal to push through a block of nominees for floor votes.
About 200 appellate and district court judges were confirmed during President George Bush's first term. About 115 of Obama's nominees have been confirmed to date -- meaning the president must push through more than 80 nominees before the end of his term to catch up to his predecessor.
The Senate's work is far from over. There are currently 22 nominees awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor, and the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday is scheduled to vote on five more nominees.
Nominees often stall as they await a vote by the full Senate, with votes taking an average of more than 100 days after judiciary committee approval, according to White House statistics.
"They are not making it to the floor -- which is what matters," said Glenn Sugameli, a lawyer with the left-leaning Defenders of Wildlife who tracks judicial nominations.
(Reporting by Carlyn Kolker)