senate obstruction

  • January 13, 2012

    After meeting with Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) announced that he will reverse course and support her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. "Judge Shwartz satisfactorily answered questions covering important legal topics such as current law on the rights of corporations under the First Amendment, constitutional limits on Executive Branch power and the application of heightened standards of review under the Constitution," he said in a statement. Menendez had previously opposed her nomination and had not yet submitted the blue slip required to move the process forward.

    Following a swearing-in ceremony for now-U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani, Middle District of Pennsylvania Chief Judge Yvette Kane called on her U.S. senators to fill several vacancies in the district as soon as possible, The Scranton Times Tribune reports. The state has six vacancies – but no nominees – because Sens. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) have not sent recommendations to President Obama. Casey said they are “working on it,” but worried that the Senate would not confirm any nominees, now that election season is under way.

    Regarding President Obama’s four recent recess appointments, the Justice Department released a memo in which it advised that they are constitutional. In his press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney further supported the legality of the appointments, saying, “We believe our legal argument is very strong, will absolutely pass muster.” In retaliation for the appointments, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is threatening to halt pending nominations for Senate confirmation, Bloomberg News reports.

    The Latest in “In the News

    • “U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez right to meet with blocked judge,” from The Star Ledger
    • Obama Nominees Cool Heels as Divided Senate Stalls on Confirmation Votes,” from Bloomberg News
    • Senate Republicans consider blocking future presidential nominations,” from Daily Kos

    The Latest in “Recommended Readings

    • “Appointments Challenge Senate Role, Experts Say,” from The New York Times
    • President Obama’s Judicial Nominees: A Question of Qualifications,” from The Dallas Morning News
    • “Senator should drop block of judicial nominee,” from The Washington Post
  • January 6, 2012

    With the Senate still out on recess, no action has been taken by the body to confirm the 37 pending federal bench nominees. In December, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked more than 50 pending nominations, including 21 who are ripe for an immediate Senate vote.

    Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is reportedly holding up the nomination of Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by failing to return his blue slip, a senatorial courtesy device for home-state senators, according to The Star-Ledger. In a statement after the news broke, the senator said, “In my opinion, Judge Shwartz did not adequately demonstrate the breadth of knowledge of constitutional law and pivotal Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United that we should expect from a United States Circuit Court judge.”

    The Daily Report reports that Atlanta litigator Jill A. Pryor is being considered for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit; a local country superior court judge informed the newspaper that a representative of the committee that rates White House judicial nominees had called him regarding Pryor. The seat remains vacant since Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. retired last August.

    Chief Justice John Roberts issued his year-end report without mention of the judicial vacancy crisis plaguing the bench. In his response, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), lamented:

    I remain concerned about the impact sustained judicial vacancies are having on our courts around the country. This is arguably the greatest threat to the trial and appellate courts of the federal judiciary. For the last three years, dozens of judicial nominations have been delayed in the Senate. In fact, nearly 20 judicial nominations pending and stalled before the Senate should be confirmed when the body resumes session in January. This would lower the current number of vacancies by nearly 25 percent. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to provide its advice and consent in the confirmation of federal judges. Only then can the federal judiciary fulfill its own constitutional role.

  • December 16, 2011
    The Senate confirmed Alaska Supreme Court Justice Morgan Christen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Thursday by a vote of 95-3, three months after she was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Christen will fill one of four vacancies on the Ninth Circuit considered judicial emergencies. “At a time when judges on that circuit are being called upon to handle double the caseload of the other Federal circuit courts, the Senate should have expedited the consideration of Justice Christen’s nomination, not needlessly slowed it down,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) before the vote. “The Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, along with the members of the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, have written to the Senate emphasizing the Ninth Circuit’s ‘desperate need for judges,’ urging the Senate to ‘act on judicial nominees without delay,’ and concluding that
    There are 22 other nominees awaiting an up-or-down vote before the Senate adjourns later this month.
    The Senate Judiciary Committee voted out the nomination of Brian C. Wimes to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri by a voice vote. It also held a nomination hearing for Paul J. Watford, another of the president’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
    In the wake of the filibusters of D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee Richard Cordray, the nonpartisan group "No Labels," run by former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Bill Galston, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is calling for a plan to end gridlock in Congress that includes filibuster reform. In an op-ed in Politico, Davis suggests up-or-down votes on all presidential nominees within 90 days. In their recent ACS Issue Brief, law professors Richard Painter and Michael Gerhardt also call for time limits on judicial nominations as one of several proposals for reforming the process.
    Continuing criticism of the Senate’s recent filibusters has come from ACS Board Member Linda Greenhouse in The New York Times, American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Norman Ornstein in Roll Call and numerous editorial boards.
  • December 14, 2011

    by Jonathan Arogeti

    Adding to a growing bipartisan chorus to break the obstructionist impasse over judicial nominations in Congress, two more former government officials from the two sides of the political aisle are urging reform.

    In a Tuesday op-ed for Politico, former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) notes that individual senators are holding presidential nominations “hostage,” trying to “win concession … or just to score political points.” And on the same day in an op-ed for The Hill, Bill Galston, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, notes that “an explosive uptick in ideologically driven filibusters” is “freez[ing]” congressional action.

    No Labels, a group Davis and Galston helped co-found, is unveiling a 12-point plan with one simple goal: to make Congress work. Part of the plan includes a proposal to require up-or-down votes on presidential appointments. They recommend, “[A]ll presidential nominations should be confirmed or rejected within 90 days of the nomination being received by the Senate. This time frame includes both committee and floor action. If a nominee's name is not confirmed or rejected within 90 days, the nominee would be confirmed by default.” A second proposal would fix the filibuster by requiring filibusters à la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and end the filibuster on motions to proceed.

    Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says the Senate should feel “shame” for using delaying tactics in just the last week to halt the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the judiciary, Richard Cordray to a consumer bureau and  Mari Carmen Aponte to an ambassadorship. These tactics notably doomed the judicial nominations of Miguel Estrada, one of President George W. Bush’s nominees, and Goodwin Liu, another judicial nominee of President Obama.

    Michael Gerhardt, a former Clinton-era official and now a law professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Richard Painter, a former Bush-era official and now a law professor at the University of Minnesota, published an ACS Issue Brief that proposes judicial nominations reform.

  • December 9, 2011
    The Senate voted this week to block a confirmation vote on Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The vote of 54-45 on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s motion to invoke cloture fell six votes short of the 60 needed to force an up-or-down vote on her nomination. “Today’s vote dramatically lowers the bar used to justify a filibuster, which had required ‘extraordinary circumstances,’” said President Obama. “The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect.” ACS President Caroline Fredrickson and newly elected ACS Board Chair Peter Edelman issued statements criticizing Senate obstruction, and the move was blasted by The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler in The Huffington Post.
    The Senate confirmed four district court nominees this week: Dana Christensen to the District of Montana, Andrew L. Carter, Jr. and Edgardo Ramos to the Southern District of New York and James Rodney Gilstrap to the Eastern District of Texas.  
    The Senate Judiciary Committee rescheduled the nomination hearing for Paul J. Watford, the president’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The committee also held over the nomination of Brian C. Wimes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri.