Democratic Senators Bemoan Delays for Judicial Nominees

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) castigated Republicans on Tuesday for their delay in confirming district and appellate court nominees. Chairman Leahy says that the Republicans are doing something that has never been done before, “this pattern of delay and obstruction is completely unprecedented.”

The Senators pointed to the need to hold cloture votes for several nominees, who then received overwhelming majorities for their vote on final passage. Leahy claims that in previous administrations nominees would have a less labor intensive voice vote for confirmation. The rationale for these actions? Sen. Schumer says Republicans just want to be difficult. “There’s no justification for holding these judges up except gridlock.”

They condemned the use of the filibuster in judicial nominations saying that a it amounted to a “maybe” vote, and as Senators they are elected and paid to cast “up or down” votes.

Democrats, according to Leahy, once they gained control of the Senate in 2001 were much more fair to President George W Bush’s judicial nominees. At this point in President Bush’s tenure, the Senate had cleared 42 judges, but only 22 of President Obama’s judicial appointees have been cleared so far. He also said that as chairman he worked to end the practice of the “pocket filibuster,” a maneuver by the majority party to defeat a nominee by not scheduling a confirmation hearing for him or her.

What the two Senators failed to mention is that the use of the pocket filibuster and other obstruction techniques are tactics used by both sides of the aisle. Senate Democrats used a pocket filibuster to block several nominees during the 110th Congress. Use of a standard filibuster to block nominees is also not a new trend, as Democrats, while in the minority, successfully filibustered ten of President Bush’s judicial nominees in 2003.

Whether delaying and obstructing judicial nominations is a new procedure or old hat for lawmakers is apparently open for debate. 

Regardless of the unclear answer to the "who started it" question, Senate Democrats are going to work to get more of their nominees seated on the federal bench. Sen. Schumer raised the specter of staying in session “as long as it takes, nights, weekends” to clear blocked nominees. He said this would be coming “soon, (so) stay tuned.”