Yet again, Senate Republicans have forced a vote to end their unwarranted filibuster of a qualified judicial nominee nominated by President Obama, a filibuster that was ended by a 60-31 vote this evening. Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Hurwitz has been nominated to serve on the severely understaffed Ninth Circuit, a vacancy in desperate need of filling so the court can serve the people in nine western states.
It is those millions of Americans who are hurt the most when qualified nominees willing to serve their country are blocked for partisan reasons. The Ninth Circuit has far more cases per three-judge panel than any other circuit in the nation. These cases involve employment discrimination, contract disputes, civil rights, consumer protection, immigrant rights, and a host of other issues. While we may not hear much about most of these cases, they are of vital importance to the individuals and businesses involved. When final resolution of their cases is delayed because there aren’t enough judges to hear cases expeditiously, ordinary Americans pay the price.
Since Senate Republicans’ well publicized shaming in March, when their unwarranted filibuster of 17 district court nominations was widely condemned, they have improved in generally allowing “regular order,” where confirmation votes are cast each week that the Senate is in session. However, because they have so gummed up the works for more than three years, there is an enormous backlog of pending nominations that are awaiting confirmation votes. Allowing one or two a week does not effectively address that backlog, especially since the Judiciary Committee continues to approve nominations and send them to the Senate floor.
What appears to be grudging cooperation is really cementing the obstruction: This evening, there are 18 pending nominees waiting for a Senate confirmation vote, exactly the same number as two months ago.
It is in this light that this second Ninth Circuit filibuster in the past month must be seen. Justice Hurwitz has received the highest possible evaluation from the nonpartisan panel of the American Bar Association that analyzes the qualifications of judicial nominees. His former law clerks have submitted a strongly supportive statement highlighting his mastery of the law, his deliberate approach to interpretation, and his evenhandedness the bench. His qualifications have been recognized by his two Republican home state senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl. The Judiciary Committee approved of his nomination with the unanimous Democratic and significant Republican support. Yet a number of Senate Republicans not only plan to vote against him when the confirmation vote is held (possibly as early as tonight), but they tried today to prevent that vote from ever happening.
When former electoral opponents Barack Obama and John McCain join the Judiciary Committee’s Al Franken and Tom Coburn in recognizing that a nominee is highly qualified, it is hard to take seriously those on the fringe who claim he is an extremist.