Obama ju­di­cial nom­i­nees await Hill votes

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

As if Congress didn’t have enough on its plate this hec­tic lame duck ses­sion — the “fis­cal cliff,” Beng­hazi probes and the farm bill to name a few — the Se­nate is fac­ing an es­ca­lat­ing back­log of pend­ing fed­eral ju­di­cial nominations that the le­gal com­mu­nity says is hurt­ing the jus­tice sys­tem.

Se­nate lead­ers say they hope to act on many of the nominations by the end of the year. The list grew longer two weeks ago when the White House sent the cham­ber nominations for seven district court and one court of in­ter­na­tional trade judge­ships that are va­cant.

Yet the busy late-year cal­en­dar and par­ti­san bick­er­ing means more than a hand­ful of open judge­ships may re­main un­filled by the new year.

When Congress re­cessed in Septem­ber for sev­eral weeks ahead of the Novem­ber elec­tions, they left be­hind 19 ju­di­cial nominations that had been ap­proved by the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee but that were await­ing fi­nal Se­nate ac­tion. Most are non­con­tro­ver­sial, as 17 re­ceived bi­par­ti­san sup­port in the com­mit­tee and seven have sup­port from Repub­li­can home­s­tate sen­a­tors.

There are 82 fed­eral judge va­can­cies na­tion­wide — 53 more than at this point in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s first term, said the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s Demo­cratic of­fice.

Repub­li­cans have been in no hurry the past year to act on many of Mr. Obama’s ju­di­cial picks, as they were hope­ful a GOP pres­i­dent would oc­cupy the White House in 2013 and ap­point his own can­di­dates.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, used this ra­tio­nale to lead a fil­i­buster in July to block the nom­i­na­tion of Robert E. Bacharach for the Den­ver-based 10th Cir­cuit Court. Democrats said it was the first time in Se­nate his­tory a ju­di­cial nom­i­nee who cleared the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee with bi­par­ti­san sup­port had been blocked on the floor.

With Mr. Obama’s re-elec­tion this month, Democrats say it’s time for Repub­li­cans to drop their “ob­struc­tion­ism” and act fast on the pres­i­dent’s nom­i­nees.

“There is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for hold­ing up fi­nal Se­nate ac­tion on th­ese ju­di­cial nominations,” Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pa­trick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat, said last week. “Th­ese are not judge­ships that Repub­li­cans can claim they wish to keep open in or­der to be filled by nom­i­nees from Pres­i­dent Obama’s suc­ces­sor next year.”

“De­lay for de­lay’s sake wrong and should end.”

But Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa, the top Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, pushed back, say­ing the Se­nate has been “more than fair” to the pres­i­dent by con­firm­ing 160 of his

is nominations, in­clud­ing two of his Supreme Court picks. By con­trast, he said the Se­nate con­firmed only 122 of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s nom­i­nees dur­ing a sim­i­lar time frame.

“Se­nate Repub­li­cans will con­tinue to work co­op­er­a­tively,” the se­na­tor said Nov. 19. “At the same time, we fully ex­pect the [Demo­cratic] ma­jor­ity to act con­sis­tent with past Se­nate prac­tice.”

The com­mit­tee’s Demo­cratic of­fice has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. It says the Se­nate’s 78 per­cent con­fir­ma­tion rate of Obama ju­di­cial nominations (160 con­firmed out of 206 to­tal nominations) is lower than the 87 per­cent con­fir­ma­tion rate Mr. Bush en­joyed dur­ing the same pe­riod of his pres­i­dency (200 con­firmed out of 231 to­tal nominations).

Se­nate Democrats say the con­fir­ma­tion per­cent­age for Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion nom­i­nees is the low­est of any pres­i­dent in the past 36 years.

Ju­di­cial nom­i­nees re­quire a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of the Se­nate’s 100 mem­bers for con­fir­ma­tion. They don’t need House ap­proval.

Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Lau­rel G. Bel­lows has urged the pres­i­dent to make fill­ing ju­di­cial va­can­cies a top domestic pri­or­ity for his sec­ond term.

“Our ju­di­cial sys­tem is pred­i­cated on the prin­ci­ples that each case de­serves to be eval­u­ated on its mer­its, that jus­tice will be dis­pensed even­hand­edly and that jus­tice de­layed is jus­tice de­nied,” said Mr. Bel­lows in a let­ter to the pres­i­dent ear­lier this month. “None of this is achiev­able if the ju­di­ciary is de­nied the funds or the judges it needs to do its im­por­tant work.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ready to hand out some robes: Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pa­trick Leahy

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