by Nicole Flatow
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid succeeded in pushing through yet another noncontroversial judicial nominee Monday night, after filing the 29th motion to invoke cloture on a judicial nominee since President Obama took office.
Senators never voted on the motion -- they agreed by unanimous consent to consider the nomination of Michael A. Shipp to the New Jersey federal district court and then voted overwhelmingly 91-1 to confirm him. But the fact that Reid’s cloture motion was even necessary is the latest evidence of the degraded process for confirming judicial nominees.
Shipp was the first African American magistrate in the District of New Jersey, and was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a voice vote without any stated opposition. His nomination was blocked when Sen. Rand Paul refused to consent to a vote on Shipp – a political move to push for a vote on wholly unrelated legislation to halt aid to Pakistan.
This is not the first time Sen. Paul has exploited a nomination for political capital. Just a few months ago he held up the nomination of now-federal appeals court judge Adalberto José Jordán in an effort to force action on his proposal to cut off aid to Egypt. On that occasion, even after the Senate had voted to invoke cloture, Paul exploited a procedural rule to hold up a vote by the full Senate until the 30 hours of permitted debate had elapsed.
In a blog post on the unprecedented hold-ups of judicial nominees, NPR's Nina Totenberg writes:
We are all used to judicial nominations fights, but what has been remarkable in the Obama administration has been the molasses-like confirmation process for noncontroversial nominees, especially federal district court nominees.
She explains that district court judges are the “workhorses of the federal district courts,” carrying heavy trial loads that are made even heavier by the high number of judicial vacancies, many considered judicial emergencies.
“Even in the last few decades, as judicial nominations have become more and more the focus of partisan controversy, district court nominees remained largely immune,” she adds. “During the Obama administration, however, district court nominees, though largely uncontroversial, have been drawn into the web of partisan stalling.”
When it comes to federal appeals court nominees, that partisan stalling is even more extreme, particularly now that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has invoked the so-called “Thurmond Rule” to block circuit court nominees until after the November election.
In a column assailing this GOP obstruction, The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen writes:
Can you imagine the uproar if the Senate ever used its filibuster power to block the deployment of troops already endorsed by the Armed Services Committee? Now please tell me the material difference here. Surely, the judiciary needs judges as much as the army needs soldiers.
…This is unacceptable on every level. When we talk about "false equivalence" in modern politics the business of these judges should be the lede. These nominations require no great policy choices on the part of Congress. They don't come with thousands of pages of ambiguous legalese disguised as the language of a federal statute. There is no room for spin. These nominees are either qualified, or they aren't, and when they sail out of the Judiciary Committee with voice votes no one can plausibly say they aren't qualified.
There are now 20 other judicial nominees ready for an immediate Senate vote. And with 77 total vacancies on the federal courts, Shipp’s confirmation is “not even close to good enough,” The Washington Post’s Jonathan Bernstein writes.
[Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.]