People For the American Way

Thursday is Test Day for Senate Judiciary Republicans

Tomorrow morning, we will learn more about how Chairman Chuck Grassley will run the Senate Judiciary Committee … and whether Republicans will continue one of the indefensible forms of obstruction that they engaged in for six years while in the minority.

Grassley has scheduled a meeting for tomorrow with key votes on the agenda. They include four district court nominees from Texas and Utah, the first ones fully processed by the committee under its new Republican leadership.

The question is whether the committee will be allowed to vote on any of these nominees. Committee rules let senators "hold over" (i.e., delay) committee votes without explanation. This was done during previous presidencies when a nominee was controversial or when senators needed more time to evaluate the nominee. But during the first six years of the Obama presidency, Republicans exercised this right for all but 12 of his judicial nominees, which was an unprecedented abuse of the rules. As we said when we first wrote about this particular tool of obstruction in 2011:

Voting on a federal judicial nomination is an extremely serious responsibility and one that requires diligent research and thought. So if senators sincerely have questions that have not been answered, or genuine and substantial concerns about a nominee's fitness for the bench, then no one should begrudge them an extra few days to gather additional information.

But when Republicans exercise this option for every nominee, even those who are strongly supported by their home state Republican senators and have no opposition whatsoever, then their sincerity must be called into question.

But that was when Republicans were in the minority. It's one thing to always demand a delay when you're never the one to have scheduled the votes. It would be another thing altogether for Republicans to routinely ask for delay when they're the ones putting people on the schedule in the first place. Tomorrow's action may tell us what to expect for the next two years.

Two of the Texas nominees would fill vacancies that have been officially designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. One has been vacant just short of two years, and the other has been vacant since the end of 2012. (The other Texas seat has been vacant for "only" eight months, while the Utah one has been vacant for over a year.)

As for the nominees themselves, all four have the strong support of their home state senators, which is not unusual. But in this case, each of those home state senators is a Republican who is on the Judiciary Committee.

So will Sens. Cornyn, Cruz, Hatch, and Lee sit there and say nothing tomorrow if a vote on their nominees is delayed for no reason? Will Sen. Grassley start his chairmanship by insisting that committee votes be delayed even when he's the one to have scheduled them in the first place?

Tune in tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Thursday morning, Grassley held the nominees over, on the basis that it was their first time on the agenda.  In other words, "because we can."