People For the American Way

Exponential Escalation of Judicial Obstruction

Filing 17 cloture petitions to end the filibusters against so many district court nominations is a necessary response to an unprecedented level of obstruction. It’s worth looking at how Senate Republicans have driven America to this extraordinary point.

Until the election of President Obama and the GOP’s decision to become the "Party of No," district court nominations were generally low-profile nonpartisan affairs. Throughout the entire eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, every district court nominee was confirmed without objection, with a mere five exceptions. In contrast, during the much shorter time that Obama has been in office, Republicans have opposed 19 of his district court nominees. That’s an increase of almost 1,000%.

It has also been much harder to even get nominations voted on. Before the breakdown, once a district court nominee was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full Senate moved swiftly to vote: 22 days for Bush, but pushed back without explanation to an astonishing 93 days for Obama.

In fact, during Bush’s first term, 57 of his district court nominees were confirmed within a week of committee approval. Only five of Obama’s have been treated that well. But even that understates the level of GOP obstruction: Of those five Obama nominees, three of them had actually been approved by committee earlier, were denied a floor vote, then had to undergo a second committee vote before being allowed a vote by the full Senate. So only two of Obama’s district court nominees have so far been confirmed within a week of first getting committee approval, far less than Bush’s first-term number of 57.

Republicans have ramped up the use of the filibuster exponentially. Over the past 60 years, before Obama’s presidency, only three district court nominees had been filibustered. In the past year, Republicans filibustered two of Obama’s district court nominees, and then yesterday Sen. Reid had to file cloture to end the filibuster of an additional 17, an enormous escalation on the part of the Senate GOP.

This is a national problem that Congress can resolve in the space of a few minutes. In fact, the Senate confirmed 17 district court nominations in one day by voice vote back in November of 2002, when Bush was president. Nothing stops the Senate from doing the same thing this week, except for stubborn, destructive partisanship.

So 17 courthouses that could be filled in a snap will remain empty. Eight of those are in areas where the caseload is so extreme that is has been formally declared a judicial emergency. Eleven of the 17 nominees are women or people of color, whose confirmation would help diversify the federal bench.

Our entire system of justice relies on a functioning court system, so every American can get their day in court. That should not be cast aside just to score points against President Obama.


Filibuster, judges, judicial nominations, Lower Federal Courts, Obstruction, Obstructionism