Since Republicans took over the Senate, they’ve used their control of the Judiciary Committee (through Chairman Chuck Grassley) and of the Senate floor (through Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to make the consideration of judicial nominees as slow as possible. That only nine have been confirmed this year is ridiculous, and it is why judicial vacancies and emergencies have skyrocketed since the start of the year.
But there’s been hope, in the form of two nominees from Iowa who were recommended to the White House by Chuck Grassley. One of them (Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger) is President Obama’s most recent nominee, having been nominated on September 15. Grassley wants both Iowans confirmed quickly. Since Grassley promised to process nominees in the order he received them last spring, he should have pulled out the stops to process all the other nominees so the committee could quickly get to Ebinger.
But that isn’t what’s happened. Instead, Grassley leapfrogged her over ten longer-waiting district court nominees for the one and only judicial nominations hearing he held last month. Some of those nominees are from states with at least one Republican senator, where he can count on them to delay submitting their blue slip for months, a way the GOP can slow down the process as much as possible. (For an example of how this works, just ask Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey.) But four of the skipped nominees come from states with two Democratic senators, who – wanting to see their recommended nominees confirmed as soon as possible – had turned in their blue slips early on:
- Inga Bernstein (Massachusetts), nominated July 30
- Mary McElroy (Rhode Island), nominated September 8
- Stephanie Gallagher (Maryland), nominated September 8
- Clare Connors (Hawaii), nominated September 8
Grassley hasn’t held another judicial nominations hearing since then, so they are still waiting.
In the meantime, the committee last week advanced Ebinger and four other nominees to the full Senate. In the order they were nominated, they are:
- Julien Neals (New Jersey), nominated February 26
- Mark Young (California), nominated July 16
- Leonard Strand (Iowa), nominated July 21
- Gary Brown (New York), nominated July 30
- Rebecca Ebinger (Iowa), nominated September 15 (and the only one of these five that is not a judicial emergency)
But even here, Grassley found a way to leapfrog his nominees. Since the Senate has been voting (albeit ridiculously slowly) on nominees in the order they’ve come out of the Judiciary Committee, a judicial nominee’s chances of getting a vote from the GOP-controlled Senate by year’s end are likely higher if they are listed ahead of the Iowa nominees. A press for floor votes for both Iowans should help those ahead of them in line: Not just the nominees already waiting weeks and months since committee approval, but also the ones just approved by the committee but nominated long before Ebinger.
But in sending the list of five approved nominees to the full Senate, Chairman Grassley made sure to list the Iowans first. That’s not fair to Neals, who was nominated nearly seven months before Ebinger, or to Young and Brown, or to any of the people waiting for justice in their overburdened judicial districts.
It’s also bad news for the Democratic senators who recommended them, who know full well that Grassley’s machinations hurt the chances of timely confirmation for their chosen nominees.
Putting both the hearing and the confirmation list leapfrogging together, that’s a lot of Democratic senators who Grassley has moved against:
- Elizabeth Warren (MA)
- Ed Markey (MA)
- Jack Reed (RI)
- Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) – one of Grassley’s fellow members of the Judiciary Committee
- Barbara Mikulski (MD)
- Ben Cardin (MD)
- Brian Schatz (HI)
- Mazie Hirono (HI)
- Robert Menendez (NJ)
- Cory Booker (NJ)
- Dianne Feinstein (CA) – one of Grassley’s fellow members of the Judiciary Committee
- Barbara Boxer (CA)
- Chuck Schumer (NY) – one of Grassley’s fellow members of the Judiciary Committee
- Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
They are learning the hard way that a chairman’s prerogatives can be abused.