People For the American Way

The GOP Finally Allows a Judicial Confirmation Vote

The Senate is back from their two-week recess with a lot on their plate. First and foremost, they need to have a vote on Loretta Lynch, who was cleared by the Judiciary Committee back in February. But while this is a prominent illustration of Mitch McConnell’s refusal or inability to run a competent Senate, there are other examples that don’t get as much attention.

For instance, judges. Later today, the Senate is scheduled to vote to confirm Alfred Bennett to the Southern District of Texas. But if McConnell is expecting congratulations, he should expect to wait a long time … just as he forces judicial nominees to wait for a confirmation vote.

More than three months into the 114th Congress, and we are finally seeing the first judicial confirmation vote. As PFAW noted when the Senate went out a couple of weeks ago, the GOP-controlled Senate's failure to confirm President Obama’s judicial nominees stands in stark contrast to how the newly Democratic-controlled Senate treated George W. Bush’s judicial nominees in his final two years.

In 2007, the Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy hit the ground running. There were numerous nominees from the previous Congress approved by the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee but left unconfirmed at the end of 2006. Rather than force them into new hearings for the benefit of the new committee members, Chairman Leahy arranged for quick votes instead. The Committee also processed several first-time nominees. As a result, by end of March 2007, the Senate had confirmed 15 new judges.

And today, even though there are four judicial nominees who were approved by the Judiciary Committee without opposition way back in February, McConnell is today allowing a vote on only one of them.

Why no vote for Jill Parrish, who would fill a vacancy in Utah that has been open for more than a year? Why no vote for George Hanks of the Southern District of Texas, who would fill a vacancy that has been open for nearly as long? Why no vote for Jose Rolando Olvera, who would fill a judicial emergency in the same district that has been open since the end of 2012?

If McConnell wants to be taken seriously as someone who is guided by anything other than sheer partisanship, he surely has not shown it in the way he has exercised his responsibilities as Senate Majority Leader. Unfortunately, the ones who pay the price are the individuals and businesses whose access to justice is hampered by the lack of enough judges on the bench.