by Jeremy Leaming
The inability of President Obama to fill vacant seats on one of the nation’s most powerful courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has belatedly caught the attention of a few beltway reporters. And unsurprisingly several of those longtime reporters have framed the story in a typical, albeit lazy, fashion – it’s both the Republicans and the administration’s fault. It’s a story they are trained to write. Place blame on both parties, question whether there’s really anything new here and then walk away.
So one must look to writers like Andrew Sullivan, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein or the Constitutional Accountability Center’s Judith Schaeffer for an accurate picture of the debacle that is the judicial nominations process.
The current fight over the judiciary has very little to do with the pace by which the administration has nominated potential judges. It has everything to do with a Republican Party that has grown increasingly radical. It’s a Party that is oblivious to the last two presidential elections, won fairly handily by a Democrat, and beholden to interests that need a federal bench that tilts heavily rightward – to protect corporate interests. So Republican senators, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), have not taken their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent seriously and abused the filibuster to greatly slow the pace of judicial confirmations. This has led to vacancies across the country hovering above 80 for far too long.
As Sullivan wrote in March, President Obama is “not equally at fault here. This should be a steady, reasonable process – especially for utterly uncontroversial nominees. The American system requires some give-and-take, some acknowledgment that when you lose an election, you cooperate with the winner and take some responsibility for important institutions, like the federal courts. And yet this core conservative instinct to preserve the constitutional order and process has disappeared in the fanaticism of the current GOP. They are behaving like moody teenagers with grudges.”
The Republican obstructionists’ actions have likely had the most adverse effect on the D.C. Circuit, where they recently filibustered one of Obama’s selections for the D.C. Circuit, which hears some of the most important constitutional matters of any of the federal appeals circuits. It hears, for instance, challenges to new regulations aimed at enforcing the Clean Air and Clean Water federal laws. It is also a Court that tilts rightward and has shown great hostility to regulations aimed at protecting our environment – good for corporate interests, harmful to the health of many Americans.