GOP Obstructionism Continues to Plague Obama's Judicial Nominees
by Charles Lemos, Sat Aug 07, 2010 at 04:36:52 AM EDT
As of July 31st, only 42.8 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees had been confirmed. No other President in recent memory even comes close to such a dismal number. Filibusters, anonymous holds, and other obstructionary tactics have become the norm. It is all part of the strategy employed by the GOP to derail the Obama Administration. It is an unrelenting war against the President and his Administration but the President seems incapable of taking the Republicans to task. This isn't Harry Reid's job, it is the President's obligation to defend his nominees and to shame the Republicans publicly.
President Obama did get "a bit annoyed" with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during meeting with Congressional leaders on July 27th. According to Roll Call, President Obama used the private closed door meeting to urge McConnell to “work with us” to confirm judicial nominees instead of using parliamentary procedures “time and time again to deny them.” He lamented that some have been waiting for eight months for confirmation, despite many being “voted out of committee unanimously.” Taking the GOP to task private is worthless. The President needs to roll up his sleeves and get down in the mud and fight.
Uncontroversial nominees are waiting months upon months for a floor vote, and even district court nominees—low-ranking judges whose confirmations have never been controversial in the past—are now routinely filibustered. Nominations grind to a halt in many cases even after the Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously endorsed a nominee. As of the end of July, there were 23 nominations that had cleared the Judiciary Committee but were still awaiting Senate action because a Senator had place an anonymous hold on the nomination. These are shameful tactics but the President by not calling the GOP out on them only further encourages the Republicans to further stall the Administration.
From the Center for American Progress:
There is a simple explanation for the sudden drop-off in confirmation rates—obstructionists in the Senate are using filibusters and holds at an unprecedented rate. And it is nearly impossible to break the filibusters and holds on Obama’s nominees.
Although a supermajority of senators can break a filibuster, once a filibuster is broken Senate rules still permit up to 30 hours of floor debate before taking a vote. Presently, 48 of President Obama’s judicial nominees await confirmation. At 30 hours per nominee, the Senate would have to spend 1,440 hours—60 entire days—to act on each of these nominations.
If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) were to cancel all recesses on August 1 and require the Senate to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doing nothing but considering judicial nominees, the last nominee would not be confirmed until well into autumn—and that’s assuming that the Senate passed no bills, confirmed no other nominees, and took up no other matters for this entire period!
The picture is even worse when you factor in executive branch nominees. According to the White House, President Obama presently has 240 unconfirmed nominees. Confirming each of these nominees would require a massive 300 days—10 entire months—of 24 hour work days doing nothing but confirmations.
It is easy to manipulate the Senate rules to create a crisis. If a minority of senators broadly object to the Senate’s entire agenda, then it is literally impossible to confirm more than a fraction of the hundreds of judges, executive branch officials, ambassadors, and other nominees that each president has a responsibility to appoint, even if the Senate shuts down all other legislative business to do so.
If anything, the real surprise is not that President Obama is experiencing unprecedented obstructionism. It’s that, given such dysfunctional Senate rules, it has taken so long for such a confirmation crisis to emerge.
On Friday, the Senate adjourned for a month and sent back to the White House the nominations of UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu and San Francisco Magistrate Edward M. Chen. President Obama nominated Liu to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in February. Chen was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union before becoming a federal magistrate. Obama nominated him last year to be a U.S. district judge in San Francisco.
Under a rarely invoked rule, the Senate must agree to carry over pending nominations when it goes on a 30-day recess. But Republican leaders objected to carrying over several disputed nominees, including Liu and Chen. So now the President must renominate them when Senate returns in September.
From the Los Angeles Times:
"The Republicans are obstructing and, in effect, trying to kill these nominations," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Friday. "It is tragic because these are very worthy nominees who deserve to have their nominations debated and put to a vote."
In February, Obama nominated Liu, 39, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A leading liberal academic, he has been seen as a possible future Supreme Court nominee if confirmed. But Republicans have said his writings show him to be extremely liberal, and they vowed to block him.
Chen was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union before becoming a federal magistrate. Last year, he was nominated to be a U.S. district judge in San Francisco, and he also ran into sharp opposition from the GOP.
Glenn Sugameli, a lawyer for Defenders of Wildlife, said he thought Liu and Chen could still be confirmed. "I believe they will be renominated in September, and the Democrats will make a strong push for a floor vote," he said.
"I think they realize it will take cloture, which requires 60 votes," to approve them in the Senate, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. If the 41 Republicans remain unified in their opposition, they can block action in the Senate.
The logjam over judges broke briefly Thursday night, when Republican leaders cleared the way for four nominees, including North Carolina Judge James Wynn, to be confirmed on a voice vote.
Wynn, 56, will fill a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that has been vacant since 1994. He was first nominated to the appeals court by President Clinton in 1999, but was blocked by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Last year Obama nominated him again, and he won an 18-1 vote of approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky objected to holding a Senate vote on Wynn and about two dozen nominees.
He said that Democrats had blocked several of President George W. Bush's well-qualified nominees from being confirmed to the 4th Circuit Court.
But after news stories highlighted Wynn's plight, McConnell lifted his objection and Wynn was confirmed, along with three new district judges.
If anything the Wynn case proves that the GOP will respond to being shamed.