senate obstruction

  • May 21, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) a champion of obstructing President Obama’s nominations to the federal bench and some to executive branch positions, has focused special attention on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    The D.C. Circuit is a significant court that hears high-profile national security concerns and cases regarding federal regulation, among other lofty matters. Patricia Wald, retired, served on the august Circuit court for 20 years, including five as its chief judge. She noted in a piece for The Washington Post, “Aside from the U.S. Supreme Court, it resolves more constitutional questions involving separation of powers and executive prerogatives than any court in the country.”

    The eleven-member court has four vacancies and President Obama has yet to fill one of them, because of Senate obstructionism. Senate Republicans twice scuttled Obama’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan to fill one of the Court’s vacancies. Some pundits say too much focus is placed on increasing obstructionism and grope for other excuses for the federal bench’s high vacancy rate. (See JudicialNominations.org for more on the vacancies.) But those pundits are simply uniformed or disingenuous. Republicans, led by the ringleader of obstruction, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) have stalled nominees to the Circuit courts and even some to the federal district courts. At The Dish, Andrew Sullivan has blasted the GOP for its rampant obstructionism, in reporting on a Party that has become increasingly hostile to governing.

    The D.C. Circuit with its four Republican appointees and three Democratic appointees has eagerly invalidated regulations to protect the environment, which is good for corporations, bad for humans, and earlier this year issued an opinion re-writing the president’s recess appointment power. Several of the D.C. Circuit's judges are also on senior status, which means they have much more flexibility in what cases they participate, and a greater chance exists that a three-judge panel will more often be made up of three Republican appointees. It’s a Court that caters to corporate interests, which is likely one, if not the compelling reason, Grassley and other Republicans are striving to keep Obama from placing judges on the Court.

    Grassley a part of the apparatus that blocked Halligan has not, so far, stood in the way of another nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Sri Srinivasan. But Grassley is pushing legislation that would cut the number of judges on the bench, signaling an effort to make sure the president has no more chances to shape the make-up of the D.C. Circuit. Grassley would move judgeships to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

    Part of Grassley’s push entails the canard that the D.C. Circuit has a light caseload. The Constitutional Accountability Center’s Judith E. Schaeffer in post for the group’s Text & History blog blasted Grassley’s effort as a “partisan sham.” She continued, adding that the Grassley effort amounted to “a ‘mass filibuster’ of President Obama’s future nominees to this critical circuit court. Senator Grassley’s bill is nothing more than a ploy to give cover to Senate Republicans who have no intention of letting a Democratic president fill those three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit.”

    The right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal has also joined Grassley’s cause. In a May 20 editorial, it apes Grassley’s talking points, saying the D.C. Circuit “doesn’t need the judges. The D.C. Circuit is among the most underworked court in the federal system.”

  • April 24, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    If you’re one of the president’s nominees to the federal bench it helps to have a signficant connection to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

    Jane Kelly, an assistant public defender in Iowa, nominated in January to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit was today confirmed to the federal appeals court 96 – 0. She was nominated by President Obama in January. She is the second woman and first public defender to serve on the Eighth Circuit. Both state senators, Grassley and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) worked closely to move along the nomination.

    But of course most nominees do not have the sort of backing Kelly received. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a press statement lauding the confirmation, again noted that on average the president’s appeals court nominees “wait 132 days for a vote in the Senate, compared to just 18 days” for Obama’s predecessor. 

    Regardless of uninformed or brain-addled pundits who argue Obama is at fault for the judicial vacancy crisis or for filibusters of certain pieces of legislation, the reality is that Senate Republicans led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) have stuck to agenda of obstruction. In the case of the federal bench, Senate Republicans have put aside the concerns of Americans who should and need to be able to rely on an efficient court system for political machinations.

    Sen. Grassley, who supported Kelly, saying she is “well regarded in my home state” is also leading an effort to limit the president’s ability to fill vacancies on the 11-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The D.C. Circuit is one of the nation’s most important federal appeals courts, hearing complex litigation often focusing on high-profile constitutional concerns. Patricia Wald, who served on the D.C. Circuit for 20 years, wrote for The Washington Post that the Circuit “hears complex, time-consuming, labyrinthine disputes over regulations with the greatest impact on ordinary American lives: clean air and water regulations, nuclear plant safety, health-care reform issues, insider trading and more.”   

  • November 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A week after President Obama handily won re-election - and his party gained in the Senate - one might think the other party would finally understand that elections have consequences. For example, the president has a duty to appoint judges to the federal bench, and the Senate should be ready to provide some advice and consent, not obstructionism.

    Since his first election, however, Senate Republicans have shown tremendous contempt for all things Obama, including the president’s selections to the federal bench. And the result has had devastating consequences for the judiciary. The bench has seen a historic number of vacancies, hovering, at times, near a hundred, many of them deemed judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts of the federal bench. The ringleader of obstructionism in the Senate is its Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (He famously said early in Obama’s first term that his party’s top priority was to ensure that Obama would be a one-termer. McConnell has now claimed Obama needs to become more moderate. It looks already as if the senator from Kentucky is going to ignore the president’s landslide victory, the majority of the American people and continue dwelling in a rightwing cocoon.)

    He’s being prodded by the rightwing activists who are not ready, likely never will be, to accept the 2012 election results. They’re peddling myths like declaring the Senate does not address judicial nominations during lame-duck sessions or that Obama’s nominees can surely wait a tad longer until he is sworn in for a second term in January.

    Then there’s the National Review Online’ s Ed Whelan, long obsessed with keeping the federal bench tilted as far to the right as possible. So, as Media Matters’ Sergio Muñoz points out in this blog post, Whelan is now urging Senate Republicans to stick with obstructionism. Citing a recent NRO piece by Whelan, Muñoz writes that he is calling on continued obstruction of current judicial nominations and expand it “to any and all Supreme Court nominees.”

  • September 10, 2012

    by Joseph Jerome

    Recently in The New York Times, Adam Liptak cautioned that the legislative paralysis brought on by congressional polarization has made the Supreme Court increasingly more powerful, but a dysfunctional legislature can also increase the power of the presidency. Issue after issue, important separation of powers principles are being distorted as the other branches assert their power. In the courts, this produces policy without accountability. When the president acts without Congress, it creates a democracy governed by executive decree.

    In our system of checks and balances, power grabs, particularly by the executive, are not surprising. “[A]ll the time, presidents are pushing out on the boundaries of their power and claiming new authority,” Professor William Howell explains, but the president’s ability to secure that authority is dependent upon how the other branches respond. If Congress’ failure to address calls for cybersecurity legislation is any indication, Congress’ response these days is simply to pass the buck over and over again.

    Before leaving for its recent recess, congressional dysfunction was on a full display when the Senate failed to overcome a filibuster of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. The Senate’s treatment of the issue devolved into a circus, with longtime allies Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) arguing over each other’s national security bona fides. The legislative breakdown followed a familiar pattern:  after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to permit additional amendments to the bill, the threat of a Republican filibuster ended any further discussion, and the Senate closed for business.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted that Republicans did not really wish to filibuster the bill, arguing instead that Republicans only sought to improve the proposed law through their set of amendments.  Yet he failed to mention that one of his own suggestions to “improve” cybersecurity legislation was to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving Reid to wonder what gutting health care reform had to do with cybersecurity.

  • August 17, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    The “partisan intensity” surrounding the Senate confirmation process of judicial nominees “makes the judiciary look politicized when it is not” and “has to stop,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said during an address at the 2012 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Maui.

    The remarks are the latest in a string of calls to end Senate obstruction of judicial nominees from judges and legal leaders, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Kennedy also questioned the functioning of the Senate confirmation process during the 2010 Ninth Circuit conference, saying, “It's important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk.” Two years later, Kennedy is expressing even greater alarm.

    “The Constitution requires Senate confirmation,” Kennedy said this week. “The Senate is a political entity and will act in a political way and that’s quite proper. … On the other hand, there is a difference in a political function and a partisan function, and the current climate is one in which highly qualified eminent practitioners of the law simply do not want to subject themselves to this process.”