Chris Dickerson and John O'Brien Feb. 14, 2013, 8:08pm

MIAMI - The American Association for Justice, the lobbying group of the nation's trial lawyers, held its annual winter meeting in Miami this week, with at least one new effort on its agenda.

Scheduled was a Monday meeting regarding the President's Federal Judicial Task Force, a new group that a source says will be used to identify potential federal judicial nominees.

The task force does not have a page on the AAJ website yet. As with most of the meetings listed on the agenda, its page does not provide any extra information.

The source says the group will get involved in the judicial nomination process by promoting candidates in line with AAJ goals and priorities.

It is unclear how the AAJ will promote candidates. The AAJ did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

In November, the AAJ was one of several groups that asked U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to conduct votes on President Barack Obama's judicial nominees. Grassley is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

"No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support, it has been your practice to delay the vote - generally without explanation," a letter says.

"This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn't about learning more about a nominee, and it isn't about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject."

During his time in office, Obama has had 174 judicial nominees confirmed by the U.S. Senate, including two Supreme Court justices, 31 U.S. Courts of Appeals judges and 141 U.S. District Court judges. There are 34 nominations awaiting Senate action.

Of late, Obama has had difficulty getting his nominations through the Senate.

Senate Republicans currently are blocking Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. The nomination of John Brennan as CIA director also is being delayed.

In January, Obama renominated 33 people for federal court judgeships, including Caitlin Halligan of New York for the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. Her appointment has been blocked twice by Republicans who fear she would be an activist judge.

But Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Halligan on a 10-8 party-line vote.

During the last congressional session, the U.S. Senate failed to confirm Halligan, who currently serves as general counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and is a former New York solicitor general, along with Srikanth Srinivasan, principal deputy solicitor general of the United States.

Halligan was originally nominated in September to fill the seat left behind in 2005 by John Roberts, now chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Srinivasan was first nominated in June to take over for A. Raymond Randolph, who took senior status in 2008.

That still leaves two vacancies on the D.C. Circuit with no nominations - that of Douglas H. Ginsburg, who took senior status in October 2011, and David Sentelle's seat.

On Tuesday, Sentelle, who was appointed to the D.C. Circuit in October 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and served as chief judge since February 2008, took senior status.

The D.C. Circuit is considered by some to be the second most important court in the country, after the U.S. Supreme Court. An appointment to that court often is viewed as a steppingstone to a Supreme Court position.

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Supreme Court
1 First St NE
Washington, DC 20543

American Association for Justice
777 6th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

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