The Senate GOP is blocking the confirmation of even those Obama judicial nominations that Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee supported unanimously. In fact, Republicans have allowed even fewer of President Obama’s nominated judges to even reach an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate than they did for Bill Clinton back in the 1990s.
Although the Senate voted Tuesday unanimously to confirm Barbara Keenan to fill a vacancy on the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Keenan’s is the just sixth circuit court nomination confirmed this Congress.
The Senate has confirmed just 16 circuit and district court nominations. Another 13 judicial nominations are pending before the full Senate, including 10 that received strong bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. Seven of the pending judicial nominations were approved by the Judiciary Committee without dissent.
“The Senate is far behind where we should be in helping to fill judicial vacancies,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the judiciary panel, says in remarks following Keenan’s confirmation. “Vacancies have skyrocketed to more than 100, and more have been announced. We need to do better. The American people deserve better. I congratulate Justice Keenan on her confirmation today. I look forward to the time when the 13 additional judicial nominees being stalled are released from the holds and objections that are preventing votes on their confirmations.”
Indeed, Leahy notes that last year’s total was the fewest judicial nominees confirmed in the first year of a presidency in more than 50 years.
By this date during President George W. Bush’s first term in office, the Senate, with a Democratic majority, had confirmed 39 circuit and district court nominations, Leahy notes.
“Despite the fact that President Obama began sending judicial nominations to the Senate two months earlier than President Bush, after President Obama’s 13 months in office the Senate is has confirmed only 15 Federal circuit and district court judges,” Leahy says. “During the 17 months I chaired the Judiciary Committee during President Bush’s first two years, the Senate confirmed 100 of his judicial nominees. That is the stark reality and the difference in fair treatment and approach.”
Even Obama’s noncontroversial nominees are delayed, Leahy notes.
“When the Senate does finally consider them, they are confirmed overwhelmingly. Of the 15 Federal circuit and district court judges confirmed, 12 have been confirmed unanimously,” he says. “That is right. Republicans have only voted against three of President Obama’s nominees to the federal circuit and district courts.”
Of those three, Judge Gerry Lynch of the Second Circuit, garnered only three no votes and 94 votes in favor. Judge Andre Davis of Maryland was stalled for months and then confirmed with 72 votes in favor and 16 against. Judge David Hamilton was filibustered and prevented from an up-or-down vote.
“Senate Republicans unsuccessfully filibustered the nomination of Judge David Hamilton of Indiana to the Seventh Circuit, despite support for his nomination from the senior Republican in the Senate, Dick Lugar of Indiana,” Leahy says. “Republicans delayed for months Senate consideration of Judge Beverly Martin of Georgia to the Eleventh Circuit, despite her endorsement from both her Republican home state senators. When Republicans finally agreed to her consideration on January 20, she was confirmed unanimously.
“Whether Jeffrey Viken or Roberto Lange of South Dakota, who were supported by [Republican] Senator [John] Thune, or Charlene Edwards Honeywell of Florida, who was supported by Senators [Mel] Martinez and [George] LeMieux, virtually all of President Obama’s nominees have been prevented prompt Senate action by Republican objections,” Leahy adds.
Leahy singles out his GOP counterpart on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, for criticism.
” … When Senator Sessions says that he respects me for consulting with home state Senators, and in the same statement criticizes me for consulting with home state Senators, it is a bit disturbing,” Leahy says. “When he asks me not to hold hearings and then criticizes me for supposedly delaying hearings, it is not fair. When the Republicans are not ready to proceed on a nomination and then attribute the delays to others, it is wrong. Maybe the lesson is that I should not accommodate Republican requests but press the schedule more quickly, because otherwise I risk being accused of going too slowly.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.