The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing of the 113th Congress this morning, examining a full slate of judicial nominees. Because of the unprecedented obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees over the past four years, he is the first president in decades who ended his first term with more vacancies than when it began. As Chairman Leahy has noted:
When we could have reduced vacancies below 60 at the end of last year, Senate Republicans balked and, instead, sent 15 nominees who had completed their hearings back to the White House without final action. President Obama is the first President in decades who ended his first term with more vacancies than when it began, and the first since Woodrow Wilson to complete a full first term without having a nominee to the D.C. Circuit confirmed. Throughout his first term judicial vacancies have been historically high for long periods. We need to do better. The Federal judiciary and the American people cannot afford another four years without real progress.
During the hearing, Delaware's Sen. Coons noted the historically high number of vacancies at the start of a second term, nearly three times the number of vacancies at a comparable time in the Bush Administration. Most of these are in district courts, which is where Americans turn to have their day in court even though the Supreme Court gets more public attention.
Connecticut's Sen. Blumenthal noted that many highly qualified individuals are dissuaded from serving the public on the federal bench because what was once a relatively quick and simple confirmation process has been turned into a “marathon” by Senate Republicans.
What these and other leading Democrats recognize is that the needless obstruction of judicial nominees harms the entire country. It is imperative that today's five and all the other pending nominees move promptly through the Senate for confirmation.
Will Senate Republicans continue their first-term policy of obstructing highly every qualified nominee, no matter what? Will they continue to block votes on non-controversial circuit court nominees like Patty Shwartz (eligible for a floor vote since March), Richard Taranto (also blocked since March), William Kayatta (blocked beginning in April), and Robert Bacharach (blocked since June)? Will they continue to demand delays in committee votes for every nominee without reason? Will they continue to include even consensus district court nominations as pawns in their war against all things Obama? We'll have our answer soon.