Judiciary Committee Republicans: Delay for Delay’s Sake

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Re: Judiciary Committee Republicans: Delay for Delay’s Sake
Date: June 15, 2011 

This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nominations of three of President Obama’s judicial nominees:  Steve Six (for the Tenth Circuit), Marina Garcia Marmolejo (for the Southern District of Texas), and Michael C. Green (for the Western District of New York).

Actually, the committee was originally scheduled to vote on these three nominations a week earlier, on June 9.  However, because Republican obstructionism has become the rule, not one person ever believed for even a second that the committee would actually vote as scheduled.  And no one gasped in surprise that day when Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s ranking Republican, announced that his party was exercising its prerogative to hold the vote over by a week.

That’s because since President Obama took office, virtually every one of his judicial nominees has had his or her committee vote delayed by Republicans by at least a week. This is true for Supreme Court Justices, circuit court judges, and even district court judges.  The routine use of this hold, without cause and almost without exception, is unprecedented.

Looked at in isolation, it might not appear all that harmful.  However, it is part of a larger set of procedural roadblocks the Senate GOP uses to obstruct confirmation of qualified nominees whose only “fault” is that they were nominated by a Democratic president.  The cynical abuse of this tactic makes clear that the actions of Senate Republicans toward President Obama’s judicial nominees is based on partisan politics, not principle.

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.

The Senate has confirmed more than 70 of President Obama’s nominees without opposition.  In every case but four, committee Republicans exercised their prerogative to delay committee consideration of these consensus nominees by at least one week.  That begs the question:  Why?  What did they need to learn during the delay?  That is a question that should be posed to every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee about every one of these consensus nominees.

Take the nomination of Sue E. Myerscough for a judicial emergency district court seat in Illinois as a typical example.  She was first nominated in July of 2010, was deemed unanimously well qualified by the ABA, had a committee hearing in September, submitted responses to senators’ written questions, had her committee vote scheduled and delayed two weeks, was approved by the committee without opposition on December 1 ... and was one of the 43 qualified nominees needlessly denied a floor vote when the lame duck session of Congress ended.

By the time President Obama renominated her in early January, she was so well known to the committee that they did not require her to testify anew  or to submit new responses to written questions.  She was scheduled for a committee vote February 3, but committee Republicans exercised their option to delay that vote to the 17th, at which point she was again approved without opposition, leading to her unopposed confirmation by the Senate in March.

Senator Grassley and his fellow Republicans on the committee should explain why they demanded that the committee vote be held over a week.  There was no information they lacked, since they did not have her re-testify or submit new written responses to questions.  They had no serious concerns about her nomination, since they had already supported her in 2010 and ended up supporting her again once the vote was allowed.  Can they cite anything they learned during the week’s delay?

Sue Myerscough’s nomination is hardly unique.  No matter who the nominee is, no matter how qualified, no matter if confirmation is needed to address a judicial emergency, all the nominees have something in common: They were nominated by a Democratic president, and that is all the reason Republicans need to obstruct the process and sabotage the judicial branch of the United States government.

In so doing, they are living up to the vow made by right wing leaders in the opening days of the Obama presidency:  to function as a “resistance movement” rather than as responsible participants in an electoral democracy.

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