by Nicole Flatow
The Senate concluded its last official day of business for the year on Saturday, without taking action on more than 50 judicial and executive branch nominations ready for an immediate Senate confirmation vote.
Majority Leader Harry Reid had asked the Senate to quickly confirm all 50 nominees, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to his request, saying that he would not agree to any confirmations without assurances from President Obama that he would not make any recess appointments during the Christmas break, The Hill reports.
“By refusing to consent to votes on consensus nominees before the end of the session, Senate Republicans are setting another damaging standard that will make it difficult for future Presidents of either party to fill judicial vacancies,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy in reaction.
Among the nominees left behind were 21 judicial candidates, almost all of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with significant bipartisan support. But these nominees, who would have once been confirmed without delay, have been subjected to unprecedented obstruction.
Last month, Senate Republicans filibustered the nomination of former New York State solicitor general Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who had broad bipartisan support and was rated unanimously well qualified by the American Bar Association.
In a New York Times column reacting to the news, American Constitution Society Board Member Linda Greenhouse lamented, “Now that another highly qualified judicial nominee has been left as road kill, the question is how much lower can the confirmation process sink.”
Added Sen. Leahy, “It is wrong to dismiss the delays resulting from the Senate Republicans’ obstruction as merely political tit for tat. This is a new and damaging tactic Senate Republicans have devised. They are stalling action on noncontroversial nominees. Meanwhile, millions of Americans across the country who are harmed by delays in overburdened courts bear the cost of this obstruction.”
Nearly half of all Americans live in districts or circuits that have a judicial vacancy that could be filled today if Senate Republicans just agreed to vote on the nominations now pending on the Senate calendar. It is wrong to delay votes on these qualified, consensus judicial nominees. The Senate should be helping to fill these multiple, extended judicial vacancies before adjourning.
Heading into an election year, when nominations have historically been even less of a priority, the Senate left behind 80 federal court vacancies, 29 of which are so debilitating that they are considered judicial emergencies.
“I’m kind of reminded of my days of being a younger man when I would run a foot race,” Reid said following McConnell’s move to block any action on judicial nominees. “Those long races, I wasn’t fast enough. I ran long races. But unless I started fast, it was really hard to catch up. That’s my concern about these nominations. We’ve started so slowly, I’m not sure we can catch up. I hope we can.”