This afternoon, pursuant to their agreement last week, Republicans allowed votes on three district court judicial nominations this afternoon. David Nuffer of (District of Utah), Ronnie Abrams (Southern District of New York), and Rudolph Contreras (District of Washington DC) had been languishing on the Senate floor with Republicans refusing to allow a vote for 140, 161, and 140 days, respectively. That contrasts sharply with the 22-day average for George W. Bush’s confirmed district court nominees at this point in his administration.
Today’s vote reduces the number of nominees pending on the floor from 20 to 17. However, the only reason this number is going down is because Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are preventing it from forwarding more nominations to the full chamber. Last Thursday, the Committee was scheduled to vote on two nominees, but Republicans boycotted the session. This morning, the Committee was scheduled to vote on the same nominees, plus a third, but the GOP (with the exception of Sen. Grassley) once again refused to show up, thereby preventing a quorum.
Chairman Patrick Leahy was able to corral his reluctant colleagues earlier this afternoon and finally convened this morning’s meeting … at which point the Republicans demanded that all the votes be delayed at least a week. This is part of the mechanism of obstruction that flies under the public radar: Republicans have abused their right to request a delay for no reason for all but five of President Obama’s nominees, which is unprecedented.
In a properly functioning Senate, nominations would be processed by the Judiciary Committee and go to the floor for a vote. Republicans suffered last week from the public exposure of how they have been obstructing floor votes. So they are now allowing a small number of votes and will doubtless claim credit for lowering the glut of pending nominations. But the only reason the number is going down is the chokehold they have placed on the committee.
So while the American judicial system continues to suffer from the worst vacancy crisis in at least 35 years, Senate Republicans can pat themselves on the back for a job of obstruction well done.