Early this week, the Senate is scheduled to hold cloture votes on four judicial nominees, including Timothy Brooks, nominee for the Western District of Arkansas and Pamela Reeves, nominee for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Brooks and Reeves have been waiting for confirmation votes on the Senate floor since October 31 and November 14, respectively.
As we noted earlier this month, Republicans are routinely delaying nominations on the Senate floor by requiring Democrats to invoke cloture on every single judicial nominee and then piling on hours of unneeded “post-cloture debate” for each nominee who is called up for a vote. This practice creates a weeks-long backlog of nominees awaiting votes and prevents the Senate from moving on to other business. Nominees like Brooks and Reeves could have been confirmed within minutes after they were sent to the Senate floor last year. Instead, both of these nominations were sent back to the president in early January at the end of the first session of the 113th Congress to be re-nominated. After further needless delays in Committee, the nominees were finally placed on the Senate calendar only to wait an additional two months for consideration.
After the Senate has finally worked through the backlog of nominees to get to the Arkansas and Tennessee vacancies, Republicans are throwing up additional roadblocks, forcing Senator Reid to file cloture petitions, which will further delay their consideration. These nonsensical delays of well qualified nominees undermine the public’s faith in the Senate and create hardship for those seeking justice in the courts.
Weighing into one of the most watched Senate races this election cycle, Bill Clinton spoke at a campaign event in Louisville on Tuesday putting his political weight behind Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Clinton took the opportunity to call out Republican obstruction in government, alluding to the “dumb way” the GOP has tried to run the country:
In the end that’s really what Alison is telling you: ‘Send me to Washington and I’ll do something that makes sense and if there’s a problem with it, I’ll fix it.’ And the other … choice is to just pout if … your party is not in the White House, and make as many problems as you can, stop anything good from happening, and if you can’t stop it at least badmouth it. And then … when there’s a problem do everything you can to make sure the problem is never fixed. … It’s a dumb way to run a country.
Speaking before Clinton, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth held the Minority Leader accountable for his horrible record of big money in politics, putting it pithily:
[He] is the one who says money is speech. If you have money, he’ll listen.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) absurd claim that this Congress has done well in confirming judicial nominees. In fact, Republicans have not consented to even one judicial confirmation vote since November. The few votes that have been held since then have been over GOP filibusters. Unfortunately, Senate rules allow them to demand hours of needless “post cloture debate” after every cloture vote, so it could take weeks and weeks of Senate floor time to get through all the nominees waiting for a simple yes-or-no vote.
Reid was quick to voice that the confirmation process has been unnecessarily delayed by GOP obstruction:
Everyone knows that we are in this situation because of Republicans slow-walking every nomination—every nomination. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever that we are having votes on cloture on these judges.
“It is a waste of the taxpayers’ time to go through the process we’ve been going through.
Reid, aware of the prolonged time they will spend clearing the backlog due to these procedural delays, promised that they will get through filing cloture on all of the nominees.
If that’s what the Republicans want us to do, then that’s what we’ll do. The American people will see this colossal waste of time that we’ve been going through.
Get ready. There’s more Republican obstruction on the way.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on 11th Circuit nominee Robin S. Rosenbaum for this Thursday, which is an important step forward in the fight to address our judicial vacancy crisis. Fully a third of the 11th Circuit’s twelve active judgeships are currently vacant, and all four of its empty slots have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Offices of U.S. Courts.
The vacancy crisis in the 11th Circuit is so bad that the court’s chief judge, Edward Carnes, issued an order in December temporarily suspending the standard rule that at least two judges on a three-judge 11th Circuit panel must be members of that court. That means that going forward, two of three judges on these panels could be visiting from someplace else, potentially outvoting the one 11th Circuit judge. It is vital that Judge Rosenbaum be confirmed in a timely manner. And that starts with a timely committee vote.
But it’s unlikely that’s enough reason for GOP Senators to drop their campaign of endless delays for judicial nominations.
That is, unless Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Jeff Sessions steps in.
Rosenbaum is from Florida, which gives Rubio a special responsibility to urge Republican senators on the committee not to delay the vote. It is a chance for him to prioritize his constituents over politics. Similarly, Sessions, who represents a state (Alabama) covered by the 11th Circuit, also has a unique responsibility, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, to avoid such needless delay.
Will either Rubio or Sessions step up and help move the process in a more functional direction? We’ll learn on Thursday, but if past events are a predictor of future behavior, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The Senate is scheduled to vote to end filibusters and then to confirm four federal district court nominees tonight and tomorrow morning, two for the Northern District of California, one for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and one for the District of Connecticut. All four of these nominees were thoroughly vetted and approved by unanimous voice vote by the Judiciary Committee last year. They should have and could have been confirmed months ago. (In contrast, George W. Bush’s confirmed district court noms only waited about a month on average between committee approval and confirmation.) However, because of Republican obstruction, all four nominees have waited months for a simple confirmation vote. And Senate Republicans are indicating that they won’t stop their obstruction anytime soon. In fact, it looks like they are willing to waste weeks of time in “post-cloture debate” on these and subsequent nominees.
Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer of Connecticut has been waiting for a confirmation since he was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 19. Judge James Maxwell Moody, Jr., of Arkansas has been waiting since November 14. The two nominees from Northern California, Judge James Donato and Judge Beth Labson Freeman, have both been waiting since October 31st.
This frustratingly slow process is the result of layers of delaying tactics by GOP senators. Republicans refused to hold votes on these nominees for months, and now that they are being called on their obstructionism through filibuster-ending cloture votes, they’re making the votes take as long as possible by demanding that each take hours of “post-cloture debate.” This is especially ridiculous for nominees whom the Republicans actually support. Not only is this delaying confirmation of judges in these particular states; it’s also delaying nominees in other states waiting in line for their turn, including many for posts that have been deemed “judicial emergencies.” This delaying tactic from Republicans not only slows what should be a simple process, it deprives these states’ constituents the fully functioning justice system they deserve.
Now that we’re well into President Obama’s fifth year in office, there are no prizes for guessing what the GOP’s response is to a diverse slate of nominees to the critical DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Obstruct. Obstruct. Obstruct.
Even before they were nominated, Republican Senators were laying the groundwork to block anyone nominated to the circuit. Now that President Obama has nominated three unquestionably qualified jurists with broad support from across the ideological spectrum…Republican leaders are still intent on denying them simple yes-or-no votes.
We’ve created a simple graphic to share on Facebook to let Republicans know you’re watching how they treat this diverse set of nominees. Click here to share.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today applauded the Senate confirmation of Tom Perez as Secretary of Labor. Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:
“Anyone who cares about the fair treatment of workers or civil rights should be thrilled by the confirmation of Tom Perez. During his time in the Justice Department, Perez’s commitment to protecting the rights of Americans – whether they are women, people of color, LGBT people, or people with disabilities – has been extraordinary. He has spent his career fighting for the rights of all Americans and now he will be able to take that passion and commitment to the Department of Labor.
“Even though today’s vote is an important step forward, we must continue to confront the partisan gridlock in the Senate that is hurting the American people. We must ensure that the President’s judicial nominees, like his executive nominees, also receive up and down votes. The American people understand that when senators decide they’d rather play politics than do their jobs, it harms not only Congress but all of our country.”
People For the American Way today applauded the cloture vote ending the obstruction of President Obama’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.
“Richard Corday’s nomination has been blocked for years by Republican intransigence,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “Today’s vote to finally move towards an up-or-down vote isn’t just a big win for consumers—it’s a big win for a government that actually works for all Americans.
“Moving forward, however, we’re still a long way from a fully functioning Senate. Six more executive nominees are currently facing Republican filibusters. And the President’s judicial nominees still face unprecedented obstruction in this Senate. Republicans are already digging in their heels to block votes on nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals simply because they don’t want President Obama to be able to fill the seats.
“This morning’s vote is an important step in the right direction, but there’s still a lot to be done to end the partisan gridlock that’s deeply harming our country.”
To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Re: Senator Grassley's Misleading Spin on Judges
Date: April 11, 2013
Yesterday, Sen. Chuck Grassley – the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee – made a statement that, if taken on its face, would convince an uninformed listener that Senate Republicans have been cooperating with President Obama in filling judicial vacancies. However, his highly edited view of reality leaves out vital facts that Iowans need to know if they are to judge for themselves whether their representative in the Senate is being straight with them.
Sen. Grassley said:
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed yet another judicial nominee. That was the 10th judicial nominee we confirmed so far this year, including four circuit court nominees. To put that in perspective, as of today’s date in 2005, we had confirmed zero judicial nominees.
Unfortunately, Sen. Grassley left out the details of that tenth nominee, Patty Shwartz. On March 8 of last year, the Judiciary Committee concluded that she was qualified and forwarded her nomination to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to the full Senate. However, under Senate rules, the majority cannot even schedule a confirmation vote without the consent of the minority party (or a 60-senator vote to break the filibuster). For more than a year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was stymied in his efforts to schedule a fair yes-or-no confirmation vote for Shwartz. But for Republican obstruction, she would have been confirmed a year ago; that she was confirmed this year is not something Sen. Grassley should be bragging about.
Sen. Grassley also left out the details of the three other circuit court nominees whose confirmation so early in the President’s second term he cites. All three were unopposed or nearly unopposed but nevertheless blocked for months by Republicans, always without cause. They are:
• Richard Taranto (Federal Circuit) (denied a yes-or-no confirmation vote since March 29 of last year, and finally confirmed last month in a 91-0 vote)
• Robert Bacharach (10th Circuit) (filibustered since June 7 of last year, and finally confirmed in February in a 93-0 vote)
• William Kayatta (1st Circuit) (denied a vote since April of last year, and finally confirmed in February this year in an 88-12 vote)
In fact, of the ten confirmed judges this year, a full seven of them were approved by the Judiciary Committee in the previous Congress and would have been confirmed then but for Republican obstruction.
Including all these victims of partisan obstruction as examples of partisan cooperation takes gall. It also shows contempt for the American people in general and, in particular, the Iowans who Grassley was elected to serve.
His statement continued in the same misleading vein:
Those 10 nominees are on top of a near record setting 112th Congress. During the 112th Congress, we confirmed 111 of President Obama’s judicial nominees. You have to go back 20 years to find a more productive Congress (103rd).
Again, this sounds like a record that Republicans can be proud of, until you learn a key fact that Sen. Grassley is hiding: Many of those confirmed judges from the 112th Congress (2011-2012) would have been confirmed in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) but for obstruction by Sen. Grassley and his party. President Obama started the 112th Congress renominating 42 people who had been nominated in the previous Congress. Of these, 17 had been approved by the Judiciary Committee in the 111th Congress but denied a fair yes-or-no vote. Once more, Sen. Grassley is including victims of partisan obstruction as examples of partisan cooperation.
This deception relies on people not being given the full picture. It assumes that people are kept ignorant of the fact that President Obama’s nominees, regardless of their strong bipartisan support, are on average forced to wait three to four times longer after committee approval for a yes-or-no confirmation vote than was the case for George W. Bush’s nominees at the same point in his presidency: For circuit court nominees, it is 153 days (Obama) vs. 37 days, and for district court nominees, it is 101 days vs. 35 days.
We urge you to write a story about Sen. Grassley’s efforts to obscure the undeniable fact that his party has been engaged in unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way called the filibuster reform deal set to be announced by Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) only a modest step in addressing the extraordinary GOP abuse of Senate rules. Among the provisions of the expected reform deal are a rule addressing filibusters of the motion to proceed to legislation and a rule reducing the maximum post-cloture debate for district court nominations to two hours from thirty.
“It’s important that we as a country acknowledge the need to address the unprecedented obstruction undermining the Senate’s ability to do its work,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Americans elect members of Congress to do their jobs and solve the pressing issues facing the country. That’s not possible when one party is committed to mindless obstruction.”
People For the American Way has long documented the harm this obstruction causes to our judicial system. As detailed in PFAW’s recent memo, “Empty Courtrooms in Obama’s First Term: A Slow Start on Judicial Nominations Magnified Many Times Over By Republican Obstruction,” Senate Republicans have blocked the nomination and confirmation of federal judicial nominees at an unprecedented rate during President Obama’s first term, leading to record vacancy levels in the federal courts. While there were 55 vacancies when President Obama took office, that number leapt to 90 during his first year and has rarely dropped below 90 since then. As the second term begins, there are over 100 vacancies.
“While these reforms will offer some relief against the persistent obstruction, they fall far short of what is necessary to fix the problem,” Baker continued. “Limiting the time that votes on district court nominees can be delayed after cloture is invoked is important, but the problem extends far beyond the district court level. We are disappointed, in particular, that the party leaders were unable to agree on reforms that would prevent needless delay of confirmation votes for critically important circuit court nominations when 60 senators have already voted to end a filibuster. With four long-pending circuit court nominations held up for months – two since March, one since April, and one since June – and denied a vote even during the lame duck, this does not bode well for how Republicans intend to treat President Obama’s circuit court nominees during the 113th Congress.”
Beyond judicial nominations, obstruction impacts the Senate’s entire legislative agenda. During President Obama’s first term, the number of motions to prevent bills from being openly debated reached a historic high. Republicans are now abusing procedural tactics to impede even the most routine functions of government.
“It’s time for Senate Republicans to understand how impatient the American people have become with their tactics blocking progress on a variety of issues critical to our country’s wellbeing,” said Baker. “These reforms take modest steps in that direction, but we will continue to be vigilant in fighting this needless obstruction.”
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he will block the confirmations of federal circuit court nominees from now until after the November elections, citing what he claims is a Senate tradition sometimes called the “Thurmond Rule.” Ten percent of federal judgeships are vacant, creating caseload backlogs so large that 30 of those seats are considered “judicial emergencies.”
“Senate Republicans have once again put politics ahead of the needs of the American people,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “Blocking the president’s well-qualified nominees seriously hampers the ability of the federal courts to serve Americans who seek justice in a court of law.
“Acting on the president’s nominations is the Senate’s responsibility to the American people. Unfortunately, politics is the GOP’s top priority, and it’s clear that Senator McConnell would prefer to keep the judiciary dangerously understaffed in hopes of someday filling those seats with a Republican president’s nominees. Because obstruction has been their strategy since losing the White House, most of the nominees caught in their trap would ordinarily have been confirmed long ago. Thanks to the GOP’s decision to shirk its responsibility by playing games, the backlog of nominees continues to grow and the American people are denied a fully functioning justice system.
“The President’s nominees awaiting confirmation are well qualified and will serve fairly and impartially. Almost all received strong bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to block these confirmations, and the GOP should be ashamed to cite an indefensible tradition to justify this act.”