Last March, after three years of non-stop partisan obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, Senate Majority Harry Reid filed cloture petitions to end the Republicans’ unprecedented filibuster of 17 district court nominees. Under public pressure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to hold votes to confirm 14 circuit and district court nominees by May 7, averaging a little more than two votes per week that the Senate was in session. Sen. Reid expressed the hope that Republicans would continue this pace even after the end date of the deal.
Six months later, that clearly has not happened. Since the agreement expired, Republicans have consented to only 14 judicial confirmation votes, averaging just one per week that the Senate has been in session.
That’s right: In the more than half year since the agreement expired on May 7, the GOP has allowed the same number of votes as it allowed in two months under the March agreement.
These past six months have seen nothing but continued obstruction. In mid-June, Andrew Hurwitz was confirmed to the Ninth Circuit only after Democrats successfully invoked cloture to end the Republican filibuster. The very next day, McConnell declared that he would block votes on all circuit court nominees, regardless of their bipartisan support, because it was an election year. This springtime blockade of consensus circuit court nominees represented yet another escalation in the GOP war against anything Obama. In September, when Reid tried to confirm all the long-pending district court nominations before leaving town until after the election, McConnell stood on the Senate floor and single-handedly blocked the Senate from voting. Even after an election that saw the GOP chastised by the voters, several Republicans are suggesting we will see few if any confirmations during the lame duck.
We have 19 circuit and district court nominations that have been languishing on the Senate floor for months, most of them since June or earlier, and some since as long ago as March or April. Almost all of them were approved by the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, and most are for positions officially designated “judicial emergencies” because of the enormous caseload per judge.
Our judicial branch is experiencing an unprecedented vacancy crisis, depriving millions of Americans of their day in court. Sen. Reid should not have to file cloture to end the filibuster of these the 19 long-waiting nominees. However, he would be fully justified in doing so, unless Sen. McConnell begins to conduct himself as a partner in governing rather than as an obstacle to good government.