Next Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on six district court nominees in Arizona. Odds are it won't happen.
That's because delaying the committee vote is a small but reliably constant way that Senate Republicans delay and obstruct all of President Obama's judicial nominees. Committee rules let the minority have a vote "held over" until the next meeting without providing a reason. That next meeting is often a week later, but when it comes before a recess, the delay can be significant. As part of the massive escalation in obstruction that Republicans launched the moment President Obama took office, they have routinely held over nominees, even for completely unopposed nominees. In fact, only five Obama judicial nominees have actually been allowed by the GOP to have their committee vote held as scheduled. The last time they let one through on time was in 2011, and that was for an Arizona nominee to replace the murdered Judge John Roll.
Perhaps they will make another Arizona exception this time. Arizona has 13 federal district judgeships, but six of them are vacant. That is a substantial vacancy rate. And because of the high caseload in Arizona courts, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has formally designated all six of the vacancies as "judicial emergencies."
Sen. Jeff Flake, himself a member of the Judiciary Committee, told his colleagues last month how desperately the people in his state need these vacancies filled: "Talking to those serving on the bench in Arizona now, they're happy to see the caseload probably cut in half" when the six nominees are confirmed. Sen. McCain has also stressed the urgency: "The recent judicial vacancies in Arizona have created an unsustainable situation for the Court and are a serious impediment to the administration of justice for the people of Arizona. The need to fill these vacancies is critical as the District of Arizona ranks as one of the top ten busiest district courts in the country."
The six nominees were originally scheduled for a committee vote on February 13, but the hearing was cancelled due to a snowstorm. Then came a week's recess. Now they are scheduled for February 27, next Thursday. Since this will be the first meeting of the committee with the Arizona nominees on the voting agenda, Republicans can be expected to needlessly request that the vote be held over … unless McCain and Flake can convince them not to obstruct.
Since Flake is on the committee, eyes will be particularly focused on him. Can he convince his GOP colleagues not to prolong the crisis in his state by delaying the vote? Will he even try?