by Jeremy Leaming
Republicans keeping to their obstructionist ways blocked an effort by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to force votes on 17 district court nominations that have languished in the chamber.
Obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominations has been ongoing since the start of his first term, and the federal bench has a record number of vacancies, more than 80. Sen. Reid had called for unanimous consent to secure confirmation votes for 17 district court nominations. “There are places around the country where we have judges who are tremendously overworked on these cases,” Reid said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to the move, claiming the president has been treated fairly.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has consistently called out Republicans’ obstruction of the president’s judicial selections, decried today’s action.
Leahy noted that Obama’s predecessors did not face this kind of trouble appointing judges to the federal bench, especially district court judges.
“However,” Leahy said in a press statement, “Senate Republicans have raised the level of partisanship so that these Federal trial court nominees have now become wrapped around the axle of partisanship. Despite a vacancy crisis that threatens the ability of Federal courts to provide justice for the American people, Senate Republicans now refuse to allow a vote on any of the 17 pending district court nominees, including 12 that have been declared judicial emergency vacancies.”
The obstruction of judicial nominations, Leahy continued, will likely mean that “for the first time in decades Federal courts are likely to have more vacancies at the end of these four years than at the beginning of the President’s term. Federal judicial vacancies have been at historically high levels for years, remaining near or above 80 for nearly the entire first term of the President.”
In a piece for Politico, Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at Brookings, makes the case that the Senate has confirmed noncontroversial district court nominations during other presidencies and that failing to do so now is rather inexcusable. “A government that can’t do its mundane business is surely unlikely to be able to deal with more controversial problems,” he notes. “History shows that the Senate should be able to confirm a respectable number of long-standing district court nominees before Election Day – certainly before adjournment.”
And if the Senate does not confirm those judges before its adjournment, Wheeler wonders whether it will “represent the new normal of district confirmations.”
Already evident is that Republicans have remained disciplined in shutting down all manners of federal government business, and have been especially adept at scuttling the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure the federal bench is operating in manner the best serves the American people. A federal bench with high vacancies and increasing caseloads is not serving Americans of all backgrounds very well. But one of the nation’s two major political parties in power seems to like it that way.
See JudicialNominations.org for more information about the federal bench vacancy crisis.