Sen. Tom Coburn

  • 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 13, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Obama administration’s effort to fill federal judgeship vacancies, while garnering plaudits for its emphasis on diversity, continues to face puzzling obstructionism from Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, as the Atlantic ’s Andrew Cohen notes here.

    In his article, Cohen tries to figure out Sen. Coburn’s ongoing obstruction of President Obama’s nomination of Arvo Mikkanen, a Native American, to a federal judgeship in Oklahoma. Obama nominated Mikkanen more than a year ago. Coburn has been steadfast, albeit vague, in his opposition to the nominee.

    “When asked this past winter,” Cohen writes, “why he was blocking the Mikkanen nomination, he answered: ‘no comment.’ When asked if he knew Mikkanen, the senator responded: ‘I know plenty. I have no comment.’ Eight months later, there’s still no word – and no scheduled confirmation hearing. Thus the Mikkanen nomination remains in political limbo while litigants in Oklahoma have to wait even longer to have their rights adjudicated in federal court.”

    The National Congress of American Indians noted that Mikkanen, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, would if confirmed be “only the third Native American in history to secure a federal judgeship.”  Jefferson Keel, president of NCAI, urged the Senate to swiftly confirm Mikkanen’s nomination, noting it would “make the federal judiciary more representative of all citizens of this country, including Native Americans.”

    Cohen’s piece centers on Sen. Coburn’s (pictured) latest action to obstruct the judicial nominations process, noting that the senator “has reportedly preempted the judicial nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court which has jurisdiction over Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, and Wyoming. This time he has blocked the nomination of Janet Levit, a Yale Law School graduate and dean of the University of Tulsa School of Law.”

    Cohen cites a report from that says Coburn is distraught over Levit’s membership in the American Society of International Law. Cohen writes:

    So it has come to this in the world of judicial nominations. A qualified judicial candidate cannot even get nominated, much less get a hearing or a vote on the Senate floor, because she is a member of a group with a mission ‘to foster the study of international law and to promote the establishment and maintenance of international relations on the basis of law and justice.’ What a terrible message that sends to the American legal community – and to the rest of the world.

    Despite Sen. Coburn’s obstinacy, the administration has still achieved success in diversifying the federal bench, as The Associated Press’s Jesse J. Holland reports.

    “More than 70 percent of Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees during his first two years were ‘non-traditional,’ or nominees who were not white males. That far exceeds the percentages in the two-term administration of Bill Clinton (48.1 percent) and George W. Bush (32.9 percent), according to Sheldon Goldman, author of the authoritative book, ‘Picking Federal Judges,’” the AP reports.

    In an interview with ACSblog, University of Maryland law school professor Sherrilyn Ifill talked about the need to confirm jurists “who represent and are reflective of the larger society ….”

    For more information on the administration’s efforts to fill federal court vacancies – there are more than 90 – see