Republican Obstruction of Executive and Judicial Nominees

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Date: April 20, 2010
Re: Republican Obstruction of Executive and Judicial Nominees

Despite being presented with qualified nominees, unquestionably within the ideological mainstream, Republican Senators have engaged in a calculated effort to slow the confirmation of President Obama's executive and judicial nominees.

Although the bulk of the news coverage on nominations has focused on a few nominees singled out for very public attacks by the GOP and right-wing activists, it's the lower profile nominations that most clearly illustrate the Republicans' "Party of 'No'" strategy. In dealing with those nominees, the GOP has undertaken a relentless and irresponsible campaign of obstruction that has frustrated the timely confirmation of the President's nominees and diverted critical time, energy, and focus from other, equally critical business of the Senate.

Just last night, the Senate invoked cloture on the nomination of Lael Brainard, to fill the critical position at the Treasury Department of Under Secretary for International Affairs. The vote on this "controversial" nominee, who had been held up for almost four months: an overwhelming 84-10.

For most of the Senate's historythe vast majority of judicial and executive branch nominees have been approved fairly quickly and without much controversy. Indeed, up until 1949, delays were so rare that the Senate did not even have a rule for cutting off debate through a cloture motion. Most frequently, nominees were confirmed not by roll call votes, but by unanimous consent.

No more.

Under President Obama, Senate Republicans have refused to agree to move forward on even the most routine nominations, slowing down the process of confirmation and grinding the business of the Senate to a halt. GOP leaders have objected to unanimous consent agreements and demanded cloture votes they have no expectation of winning simply to chew up valuable legislative time and constrict President Obama's ability to enact his policies.

The result has been nominees subjected to months of GOP foot dragging, only to be confirmed by farcically lopsided votes.

Beverly Martin, nominated to a seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee, only to be held up for 132 days, at which point she was finally confirmed 97-0.

Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr., whom president Obama nominated to a seat on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, also cleared committee unanimously. Greenaway was eventually confirmed 84-0, but not before waiting 131 days for a vote.

Greenaway and Martin are not exceptions. Judge Gerald Lynch was forced to wait 98 days before being approved 94-3, Judge Andre Davis waited more than five months to be approved 72-16, and the nomination of Judge Barbara Keenan languished on the Senate floor for 124 days before she was approved 99-0.

All of these nominees were eventually confirmed to the Courts of Appeals, but the same pattern of obstruction holds true on the lower federal courts. Several uncontroversial district court nominees who could have quickly and easily been confirmed by unanimous consent have waited weeks for roll call votes:

  • Irene Berger waited 26 days to be confirmed 97-0.
  • Charlene Honeywell waited 39 days to be confirmed 88-0.
  • Jacqueline Nguyen waited 47 days to be confirmed 97-0.
  • Roberto Lange waited 20 days to be confirmed 100-0.

In each case, in addition to facing no opposition, the nominee was rated "Well Qualified" by the American Bar Association.

And in each case, the nominee could have been confirmed quickly via unanimous consent, but Republicans spent months refusing to allow the process to go forward. It's clear that these delays aren't rooted in objections to the nominees themselves, but in a scorched-earth political strategy. And those scorched-earth tactics have serious consequences. At the moment, more than one in eight seats on the Federal Judiciary are currently vacant, leading to lengthy delays in resolving disputes that have profound effects on the lives of millions of Americans.

The GOP seems unconcerned with the consequences of this obstruction. But no one else should tolerate this irresponsibility. Republican Senators need to be called on for their obstructionist tactics and held accountable for their disingenuous political strategy.

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