July 22, 2011

As Senate Recess Approaches, No End in Sight to Obstruction of Judicial Nominees


Caroline Fredrickson, Senate Judiciary Committee

by Nicole Flatow

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved five more judicial nominees yesterday, all by voice vote without opposition, adding to the list of 26 nominees awaiting approval by the full Senate.

But the Senate is not keeping pace with the Judiciary Committee; they have held votes on only four nominees in the past two months, while the number of vacancies is once again rising.

There are now 115 current and future federal court vacancies -- more than the 114 that existed at the beginning of the year, when senators came to a “gentleman’s agreement” to end obstruction of judicial nominations.

“I’d been fairly optimistic about the compromise that Senators struck at the beginning of the 112th Congress in January, in which Republicans agreed to ease up on obstruction in exchange for Democratic agreement to leave formal rules surrounding filibusters and cloture alone,” Jonathan Bernstein wrote in The Washington Post last week. “It appears, however, that the deal has now broken down.”

Bernstein points out that getting judges confirmed “doesn’t get any easier when the election gets closer; it’s time for action on judges right now.”

ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson said earlier this week that senators are now using the deficit reduction negotiations as another excuse not to confirm any nominees.

“Republicans are playing politics with the nation’s financial obligations, while at the same time kicking other responsibilities down the road,” Fredrickson said. “The rising federal court vacancies are not going to solve themselves. Judges need to be confirmed, and the Republican opposition seems immovable.”  

While the Senate Judiciary Committee has been consistently moving nominees forward, one nominee, Steve Six, was held over today. Six’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has been opposed by both his home-state senators, but he has received strong support from a bipartisan group of more than two dozen attorneys general, and by former Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, who left the court to become dean at Pepperdine University School of Law.

To learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments, visit JudicialNominations.org.