While President Obama continues to nominate qualified men and women who would diversify the federal bench, Senate Republicans have shown their commitment to a different kind of diversity: a diversity of methods to block those nominees: Mitch McConnell spearheads the obstruction on the Senate floor, while Chuck Grassley is in charge of committee obstruction. Perhaps least visible is obstruction through abuse of the “blue slip” process, in which nominees are not scheduled for hearings until both of the nominee’s home state senators consent.
Since the spring, four nominees have been held up by Republicans withholding their blue slips. All four have something in common: They are women.
- Jill Pryor – nominated in February, blocked by Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson
- Rosemary Márquez – nominated in June 2011, blocked by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl
- Elissa Cadish – nominated in February, blocked by Nevada Sen. Dean Heller
- Shelly Dick – nominated in April, blocked by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter
Earlier this week, it was reported that Vitter has finally ended his obstruction, which he initiated because he hoped to keep the vacancy open for a President Romney to nominate someone else, presumably a conservative. With President Obama having won re-election, Vitter submitted his blue slip, but the delay will likely keep Dick from being confirmed by the end of this year.
President Obama has made a concerted effort to diversify the federal bench, as shown by the two slates of nominees he has made since the election. His task is made that much harder when qualified women are blocked before they can even get a hearing.
Yesterday, three more women were blocked, this time by Senator Grassley, who – without explanation – blocked Chairman Leahy from holding a vote to advance the nominations of Pamela Ki Mai Chen, Sheri Polster Chappell, and Katherine Polk Failla to the floor.
And two women are among those who have been languishing on the Senate floor for many months, waiting for a confirmation vote. They are Second Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz (waiting for a floor vote since March), and New York district court nominee Lorna Schofield (waiting since July).
President Obama’s nominees show that he recognizes that our nation is strengthened when our judges reflect our nation’s diversity. Unfortunately, the only commitment to diversity we see from Republicans is in the array of methods they use to obstruct those nominees.