Senate Republicans Block Appeals Court Nominee They Support, Setting Obstruction Record

Washington, DC – The Senate GOP set an obstruction record today, for the first time in history successfully filibustering a federal appeals court nominee who had come out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. In a 56 to 34 vote, a partisan minority prevented the Senate majority from ending the filibuster of the nomination of Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach to become a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. No senator has actually spoken against Bacharach’s nomination, and he has received the strong support of both his home-state senators, Republicans Tom Coburn and James Inhofe. In an interview in June, Coburn called plans to block Bacharach’s nomination “stupid.” But even Coburn and Inhofe’s support evaporated when McConnell gave the command to filibuster: both Oklahoma senators voted "present," which in the case of a filibuster is the same as a "no" vote.

“If you need any further proof of the Senate GOP’s blind dedication to obstruction, this is it,” said Paul Gordon of People For the American Way. “Robert Bacharach should have been a shoe-in for a federal judgeship. His superior qualifications aren’t in dispute. His home-state senators, both conservative Republicans, fully support his nomination. Republicans aren’t even bothering to pretend he is controversial. For the first time in American history, we see a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved by committee with bipartisan support – all because Sen. McConnell and his party are more interested in playing politics than in doing their jobs. So Americans in six states remain stuck with a circuit court without enough judges to deliver justice efficiently.

“With nearly 80 current vacancies in the federal courts, the Senate GOP should be doing everything in its power to help clear the nominations backlog, rather than making flimsy excuses for further obstruction. This absurd gamesmanship is not what Americans are paying our Senate to do.”

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Last week, People For the American Way circulated this fact sheet on Bacharach’s nomination:

There has never been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support. A failed cloture vote on Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach would represent a massive escalation in obstruction.

Robert Bacharach should be a shoe-in

  • The ABA panel that evaluates judicial nominees unanimously found Bacharach well qualified, its highest possible evaluation. He has been a magistrate judge in the Western District of Oklahoma for over a decade.
  • He was approved by the Judiciary Committee with near-unanimous bipartisan support (the one “no” vote was from Sen. Mike Lee, who is voting against all President Obama’s judicial nominees to protest an unrelated issue).
  • He has the support of President Obama and both of Oklahoma’s Republican senators.
  • As Sen. Inhofe said, “it is kind of rare that the Obama White House and I agree on anything.”
  • Sen. Coburn said in June that it would be “stupid” for his party to block a vote on Bacharach.

The “Thurmond Rule” is no excuse for blocking Bacharach

  •  In the past 5 presidential election years, Senate Democrats have never denied an up-or-down vote to any circuit court nominee of a Republican president who received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee.
  • In the past 5 presidential election years, only 4 circuit nominees reported with bipartisan support have been denied an up-or-down vote on the Senate Floor, and all 4 were nominated by President Clinton.

This is part of the GOP’s ongoing campaign of obstruction against consensus nominees

  •  Of the 5 circuit court nominees that have been confirmed this year, the Majority Leader had to file cloture on 3 of those nominees in order to secure an up-or-down vote.
  • All 3 circuit court nominees for whom the Majority Leader had to file cloture were nominated to fill judicial emergency vacancies and were rated unanimously “well qualified” by the nonpartisan ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, the highest possible rating. Two of the circuit court nominees who required cloture – Adalberto Jordan of Florida and Andrew Hurwitz of Arizona both had the support of their Republican home state senators (and the third was from California, which has two Democratic senators).

Vacancies are taking a toll on the Tenth Circuit (Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado)

  • Of the 12 active judgeships on this circuit, 2 are vacant.
  • This seat has been vacant for more than two years, when the previous judge retired (as opposed to taking senior status).
  • The slack is being picked up by several senior judges, including an 89 year-old LBJ nominee and a 96 year-old Nixon nominee.

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