President Obama’s New Year’s Resolutions

As the president enters the sixth year of his tenure, here’s what he should focus on.

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President Barack Obama at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Dec. 25, 2013, in Kaneohe Bay

Kent Nishimura-Pool/Getty Images

Yesterday was the day most New Year’s resolutions began.

And tomorrow is the day many of them will end, as that vow to shop less is done in by that once-in-a-lifetime after-Christmas sale.

But what if your New Year’s resolutions could change the world? In the case of President Barack Obama, committing to solving a problem or two in the New Year could change lives. So below are the issues he should consider tackling in 2014. Hopefully they’re on his list of New Year’s resolutions.

Push Immigration Reform

During his re-election campaign, Obama was quoted as saying, “The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform.” Well, a year later, that confidence has no doubt dwindled, because as 2013 draws to a close, comprehensive immigration reform has not been achieved, and the president is feeling the heat. He got into a spirited back-and-forth with pro-reform hecklers at an event last month in which he replied, “The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, I would do so.” Days later he and the first lady met with immigration activists engaged in a hunger strike in an effort to spur Congress to act.

Seeing that Congress does, in a meaningful way, should be the president’s top priority going into 2014. If lawmakers don’t act soon it may too late, because the midterm elections could alter Congress in a way that could make later action impossible.

Commit to Shaping the Courts

A president’s judicial appointments may arguably affect his legacy more than any other accomplishment during his term. After all, a president can sign some laws, but jurists affect thousands of laws nationally. So far President Obama has nominated two to the Supreme Court, justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The outcome of Shelby v. Holder, which is considered a major setback for voting-rights supporters and the Obama administration, was a powerful reminder of the role of courts in affecting policy. But the U.S. Court of Appeals, and other courts at the state and local levels, are often where major battles begin over key issues from abortion to civil rights. For instance, it was a federal district court judge who ruled that the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional.

Although President Obama has made more than 200 judicial nominations since taking office, his work is far from finished. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, in terms of judicial posts, “Vacancies at year’s end [are] greater than at the start of the year and the start of the administration.” In addition, the president’s success rate for getting district court nominees approved is lower than his recent predecessors’, meaning that he will have to put the pedal to the metal in 2014 if he wants to leave a judicial legacy he can be proud of.

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