Washington, DC – Senate Republicans today refused to allow a vote on 17 pending federal district court nominees before leaving for recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid requested unanimous consent to take up and confirm all 17 district court nominations on the calendar. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused, despite the fact that most of the nominees have strong bipartisan support and some have been waiting as long as five months for a Senate vote. Twelve of the pending nominees would fill seats that the Administrative Office of the US Courts has declared “judicial emergencies.”
There is strong precedent for the Senate confirming district court nominees before the end of a President’s term in office. In September of 2008, the Senate confirmed President Bush’s ten remaining district court nominees by unanimous consent one day after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.
“Under the leadership of Sen. McConnell, Senate Republicans have taken obstruction to a new level,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Never before have district court nominees been subject to this amount of partisan obstruction. Democrats have been forced to file cloture petitions to break filibusters on 20 of President Obama’s district court nominees, compared to just one each under Presidents Bush and Clinton. President Obama’s district court nominees have had to wait three times as long as President Bush’s just for an up-or-down vote. This has nothing to do with the quality of the nominees -- once they reach a vote, the vast majority have been approved nearly unanimously. Indeed, most of the 17 nominees that the GOP rejected today were approved with bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. All have had the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic.
“This obstruction has nothing to do with the nominees and everything to do with the GOP’s desire to obstruct Senate business at all costs. These costs can be seen in the twelve judicial emergencies that remain vacant because of this obstructionism. Senators Reid and Leahy are right to prioritize the confirmation of these nominees. Backlogs in the courts are ultimately passed down to Americans seeking justice. Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP must stop playing political games with our courts.”
To: Interested Parties
From: Jodi Hirsh, People For the American Way of Pennsylvania
Re: Senator Toomey Can Help Get Pennsylvania’s Judicial Nominees Confirmed by Encouraging his Republican Colleagues To Cooperate
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two nominees to fill two long-vacant seats in Pennsylvania’s federal courts. Each has broad bipartisan support and is strongly supported by both Sens. Casey and Toomey. Yet over four weeks later, neither has received a vote from the full Senate. Sen. Pat Toomey has recently urged their prompt confirmation, correctly stating that “The one thing standing between the confirmation and these two gentlemen putting on the robes and serving, is a vote on the Senate floor.” That’s true. And he says he will push for a floor vote in September. That’s good.
But in addition to making statements he needs to press members of his own party for action.
In fact it is Senate Republicans, including Sen. Toomey, who have systematically slow-walked nearly every judicial nomination that President Obama has made. Confirmed district court nominees under President Bush at this point in his presidency waited on average just 33 days from committee approval to a vote from the full Senate. In contrast, district court nominees under President Obama have waited an average of 96 days, or three times as long. This is not because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to schedule votes. It is because Reid can’t schedule a vote without the minority party’s consent, and that consent has routinely been denied even for nominees with strong bipartisan support like the two pending in Pennsylvania, just one of the many stalling tactics they have used to keep President Obama’s nominees off the courts
Pennsylvania nominees Matthew Brann of Canton and Malachy Mannion of Scott Township are not alone in waiting for Senate votes. There are now 22 judicial nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. Nineteen were approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support. Seven of these have been waiting since April or earlier for a vote. A third of these are women and people of color, nominees who would help diversify the federal bench. And most have been waiting for a Senate vote far longer than Mannion and Brann.
After the Judiciary Committee vets a nominee, especially a consensus nominee like most of the ones now pending, the Senate should quickly cast a yes-or-no vote. There is no legitimate reason for delay. In past administrations, we have seen multiple confirmation votes per week. But since May, Senate Republicans have allowed only one a week. There is no reason for this but partisan obstruction, pure and simple. Rather than being toward the bottom of a list of 22 nominees, Brann and Mannion should be at the top of much smaller list composed only of the few nominees approved by the committee in late July and early August, with the full expectation of confirmation on the day the Senate returns from recess.
For Mannion and Brann to have a realistic chance of being confirmed this fall, Senator Toomey will need to talk to his fellow Republicans – especially Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – and demand votes not only for Pennsylvania’s nominees, but for all of the many district court nominees ahead of them in line. Until those other nominees get votes, two courtrooms in Pennsylvania’s Middle District will remain empty.
On Monday, the Senate will hold a cloture vote to end the filibuster of Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This filibuster is just the latest example of the destructive obstruction of judicial nominees that Republicans have engaged in from the very start of the Obama presidency.
In fact, if this filibuster succeeds, it will be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support.
Bacharach, who hails from Oklahoma, is extraordinarily well qualified to be a circuit court judge. The ABA panel that evaluates judicial nominees unanimously gave him their highest possible rating, "well qualified." He has been a magistrate judge in the Western District of Oklahoma for over a decade, giving him substantial experience with the criminal and civil legal issues he would face as a circuit court judge.
Much of Oklahoma's legal establishment has publicly supported his nomination: the Chief Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma; the Oklahoma Bar Association; the Dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law; the General Counsel at Oklahoma City University; the Dean Emeritus at Oklahoma City University School of Law; the President of the Oklahoma County Bar Association; fellow members of the Federal Bar Association; and attorneys who worked closely with him while he was in private practice.
Bacharach also has strong bipartisan support. He has the support of President Obama and both of Oklahoma's Republican senators. In addition, he was approved by the Judiciary Committee nearly unanimously, with only Sen. Lee voting no (for reasons unrelated to the nominee). Sen. Coburn has said it would be "stupid" for his party to block a floor vote on Bacharach.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that his party would refuse to consent to any further confirmation votes for circuit court nominees, purportedly because it is an election year. He cited the so-called "Thurmond Rule," which he mischaracterized as a practice of not allowing any judicial confirmation votes as we approach a presidential election. In reality, it is not a "rule" at all. Instead, it is the name for the general principle that the party not in the White House will sometimes slow confirmation of controversial judicial nominees at some point in the months leading up to a presidential election. It has nothing to do with consensus nominees like Bacharach.
In fact, as noted above, a successful filibuster of Bacharach would be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support. That is hardly consistent with Senate history or practice.
But it would be consistent with Republican efforts to obstruct President Obama's judicial nominees regardless of their qualifications, regardless of their strong bipartisan support, and regardless of the damage the obstruction inflicts on the American people. After years of calling filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees unconstitutional, Senate Republicans turned around and filibustered President Obama's very first judicial nominee (David Hamilton, to the Seventh Circuit). This year, most of the circuit court nominees who have been confirmed have required a cloture vote to break Republican filibusters.
Republican efforts to filibuster Robert Bacharach are completely unjustified, but are also no surprise.
To: Editorial boards and journalists
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Subject: Gridlock or Bust: How the Senate GOP Has Abandoned Its Own Nominees for the Sake of Obstruction
Date: July 19, 2012
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got into a shouting match on the Senate floor, each of them accusing the other of purposefully stalling Senate business.
One of them was right. The other was making flimsy excuses.
Senate Republicans under McConnell’s leadership have routinely stalled the government’s business even on matters on which they agree with Democrats. Nowhere is this clearer than in the obstruction of nominees to the federal courts, particularly those with strong bipartisan support. And nowhere is that clearer than the senseless filibuster of the nomination of Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bacharach has the strong support of both of Oklahoma’s Republican senators. He was approved by a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Yet McConnell, citing a nebulous so-called rule named after South Carolina segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, refuses to hold a vote on Bacharach’s confirmation. (Under Senate rules, the majority cannot schedule a vote without the consent of the minority party. Denying that consent for President Obama’s judicial nominees has been standard operating procedure for McConnell. This quiet filibuster is usually hidden from the public unless the majority calls for a cloture vote to end it.)
Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach and the 20 other highly qualified judicial nominees awaiting confirmation deserve swift up-or-down votes from the full Senate.
McConnell is misleading Americans on the extent of his own obstruction.
In their exchange yesterday, Sen. McConnell accused Sen. Reid of “basically trying to convince the American people that it’s somebody else's fault, that the Senate is not doing the basic work of government.”
The Senate is not doing the basic work of government. But the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of McConnell and his party.
Look at the progress on the confirmation of President Obama’s judicial nominees: the average federal court nominee under President Obama has waited 103 days after committee approval just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush's nominees at this point in his first term was just 34 days. The result is that only 153 Obama nominees have been confirmed so far, compared with 197 Bush nominees at the same point in his term. While Bush cut the judicial vacancy rate by over one third during his first term in office, Obama is set to end his first term with more vacancies than he started with, capping off a historically long period of high vacancy rates.
McConnell, unsurprisingly, has been trying desperately to hide these numbers. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, he and Sen. Charles Grassley claimed that the Senate today “already has confirmed 152 of his lower-court nominees, compared to only 119 of Bush's under similar circumstances.”
What they call “similar circumstances” is what the rest of us would call “apples and oranges.” The senators are comparing the confirmation rate in Obama’s first term to that in Bush’s second term – when, because of a cooperative Senate he had many fewer judicial vacancies to fill.
McConnell is prioritizing obstruction over the wishes of his fellow GOP senators.
Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma has the strong support of both of his home-state GOP senators. In fact, Sen. Coburn has publicly spoken out against the needless obstruction of Bacharach’s nomination, calling McConnell’s delays “stupid.” Bacharach’s position is similar to that of First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine, who is being filibustered by the Senate GOP despite support from home-state Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Both nominees received bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both have earned the American Bar Association’s highest rating.
Yet Kayatta has been waiting for a Senate vote since April and Bacharach since June. And if McConnell continues to have his way, neither nominee will even reach a Senate vote this year. Why? The Minority Leader arbitrarily announced last month that he would block all Circuit Court nominees until after the presidential election.
Sen. McConnell is trying to fool the American people with his creative statistics and denials. Under his leadership, the Senate GOP has become a force of gridlock, stopping even routine government business at every opportunity. If Sen. McConnell wants to prove that current Senate dysfunction is not the fault of his party, he can start by allowing a vote on Robert Bacharach.
Press contact: Miranda Blue, email@example.com, (202) 467-4999
To: Editorial boards and journalists
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Subject: In Fight over Maine Judicial Nominee, a Perfect Storm of Senate Dysfunction
Date: July 12, 2012
How far will Senate Republicans go to obstruct government business in the final months before the presidential election? The fight over a noncontroversial Maine judicial nominee, which is coming to a head this week, shows just how far.
The struggle to confirm Maine’s William Kayatta to the First Circuit Court of Appeals is a perfect illustration of the Senate GOP’s commitment to obstruct all progress that might in any way help President Obama – even if it means throwing members of their own caucus under the bus. Maine’s Republican senators both strongly support Kayatta’s nomination. He was approved overwhelmingly by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The only no votes were from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who is voting against all nominees in protest of President Obama’s recess appointments and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who objected to Kayatta’s role on an ABA panel that had the nerve to find Elena Kagan “qualified” for the Supreme Court).Yet his nomination has been waiting on the Senate calendar since April 19. And if Kayatta is not confirmed before the Senate leaves for its summer recess, the seat he’s been nominated to fill could be left open for more than a year.
What should be a fairly straight-forward job for the Senate has turned into an election year struggle of wills – at the cost of Americans who rely on fully functioning courts and a Congress that does its job.
Here’s how it happened.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took the extraordinary step of announcing that Republicans would block all votes on all circuit court nominees between now and Election Day. This wasn’t welcome news to some Senate Republicans who have circuit court nominees who they are eager to put on the bench in their states. William Kayatta from Maine has the backing of Senators Snowe and Collins, and Robert Bacharach from Oklahoma has the support of Senators Coburn and Inhofe. Snowe and Collins have said they would support cloture to end the filibuster of Kayatta. Collins said in a statement that “It simply isn’t fair that Bill [Kayatta], who would be a superb judge, now appears to be caught up in election year politics. “ Coburn was more blunt, publicly stating, “I think it’s stupid.”
At the same time, Senate Republicans announced that they would continue to allow votes on district court nominees -- as if that were some great concession on their part instead of a basic part of their job. But it turns out that even that one bare promise was an empty one: For the past two months, the confirmation of judicial nominees has slowed to virtually a standstill, with an average of less than one vote per week.
This week, for example, Senate Republicans have allowed just one judicial confirmation vote: on a district court nominee in Tennessee. In fact, over the past eight weeks there have been only seven confirmations, of five district and two circuit court nominees. Both circuit court confirmations required a cloture vote to overcome Republican filibusters, after which the decidedly noncontroversial nominees were easily confirmed – one even by voice vote.
By contrast, during the same period preceding George W. Bush’s reelection campaign, the Senate confirmed nearly four times as many judges: 25 (20 district and five circuit). Under the “regular order” established during the Bush administration, the Senate should be holding at least three to four confirmation votes each week. Failing to move at that pace will mean that the Senate simply won’t be able to keep pace with the nominees being reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kayatta is now one of 18 highly qualified pending nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and who have been waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. These are not controversial picks: 15 were approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, and ten have been waiting for a floor vote since April or earlier.
The filibuster of Kayatta, who has been waiting since April 19 for a Senate vote despite enthusiastic support from his Republican home-state senators, is a perfect illustration of this mindless obstruction.
Kayatta is extraordinarily well qualified to be a circuit court judge
Delaying a vote until after the election will harm people throughout New England
Kayatta has earned strong bipartisan support
On both the circuit and the district court level, Republicans are needlessly blocking votes on eminently qualified, consensus nominees whose only “flaw” seems to be that they were nominated by President Obama. It’s time Senators rolled up their sleeves and did the business of the country they were sent to office to do.