Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley has reached a new level of desperation to support his effort to strip the DC Circuit of its three vacant seats rather than let President Obama fill them. At a confirmation hearing yesterday for the superbly qualified Nina Pillard, he trotted out statements supposedly provided by current DC Circuit judges – done anonymously – apparently saying the workload is too low to warrant filling the vacancies.
He announced that he had sent questionnaires to all the currently serving judges, and he read selected quotes supporting his position. But he did not say how many judges actually answered his transparently partisan call to help him obstruct President Obama’s efforts to fill judicial vacancies. Perhaps only two of the eight active and six senior judges answered. Perhaps the overwhelming majority of judges disagree with him but rightly chose not to engage in a partisan political fight. We don’t know, because Grassley is keeping that information to himself.
It is beneath Congress to make policy decisions about how to ensure an efficient system of federal courts based on unsubstantiated anonymous statements. It is ironic that Grassley introduced his secret “evidence” at a congressional hearing, of all places, where issues are supposed to be fully debated in the open, not under cover of unaccountable anonymity.
Perhaps this desperation is because Grassley’s is so obviously wrong on the substance. In 2005, when the caseload at the DC Circuit was 1,313 cases, Grassley and his Republican colleagues voted to fill the tenth and eleventh seats. With the most recent data showing a higher caseload of 1,419 pending cases, for Grassley and his GOP colleagues to say that the court needs only eight seats filled is preposterous – and clearly political.
Small wonder, then, that he has stooped to citing anonymous comments about the caseload from as few as two of the court’s judges. It is an embarrassing display.