Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on five well qualified nominees for federal district and circuit court seats. All five are strongly supported by both of their home state senators – three Republicans and three Democrats. All five had appeared in person before the committee and made themselves available to answer senators’ questions. Afterward, they submitted detailed responses to written questions that were not raised at the hearing. But when it came time for the committee to vote, Republicans demanded a two-week delay.
Why? They didn’t say. They didn’t need to. That’s because committee rules allow the minority party members to "hold over" (i.e., delay) votes for any reason at all, or for no reason at all. Both Democrats and Republicans have had occasion to hold nomination committee votes over in the past, where, for example, there is a particular line of inquiry about a particular nominee that one of the senators believes it is necessary to pursue.
But since President Obama took office, committee Republicans have exercised for all but five of his judicial nominees, no matter the circumstances, no matter the nominee, no matter what. The routine use of this hold for about 97% of President Obama’s judicial nominees, making it the norm rather than the exception, is unprecedented.
Since next week is a Senate recess, the most recent needless delay is for two weeks, not one. So the earliest these qualified nominees will get a committee vote is June 7. At that point, we will likely have 20 nominees who pending on the Senate floor waiting for a vote, many having languished for more than two months due to the panoply of delaying tactics Senate Republicans have been using throughout the Obama Administration. In fact, it is only this month that the Senate began confirming nominees who cleared the committee this year instead of last.
As we get closer to the election, Republicans will doubtless claim that it is too late to vote on pending nominees. That assertion will be rich, since it is their own obstruction that is preventing them from being confirmed already.