People For the American Way

Pending Judicial Nominations Pile Up

When the lame duck session began last month, the Senate had 19 long-pending judicial nominations waiting for a floor vote. Republicans had been blocking these for months, and after their election defeat, they came back to Washington and … continued like nothing had happened.

This week, Republicans agreed not to block confirmation votes on four of the consensus district court nominations. That’s four out of 19 people whose lives have been on hold while the Senate GOP made them wait. Left out are the four nominations that now have been pending longer than any others: the critically important nominations to the First, Third, Tenth, and Federal Circuits, most of which have been languishing since March or April.

And while a few people are being confirmed, others are being added to the list of pending nominees. Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee approved four new district court nominees and one for the Court of International Trade. (This was a week after ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley held up the originally scheduled vote.)

So, several weeks into the lame duck, we have gone from 19 nominees waiting for a floor vote to 20.

Ordinarily, there should be no need to have so many lame duck confirmation votes, since a responsible Senate processes nominations in a timely manner. But since Republicans have forced delay after delay for every single one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, we have an unusually large number left over after Election Day. Since they should have had votes months ago, and especially since there will be no change in the White House or Senate next year, every single one should be voted on this month.

Committee Chairman Pat Leahy forcefully condemned the ongoing obstruction yesterday.

Senate Republicans are establishing a new and harmful precedent of stalling judicial nominees on the Senate Executive Calendar who are ready for final action by insisting that they be delayed into the succeeding year. They held up judicial nominees three years ago, they did it two years ago, they did it last year, and they are doing it, again. They have found a new way to employ their old trick of a pocket filibuster. They stall nominees into the next year and force the Senate to continue work on nominees from the past year for the first several months of the new year. They delay and delay and push other confirmations back in time and then cut off Senate consideration of any nominees.

Sen. Leahy effectively counters the Republicans’ dissembling over why the Senate supposedly shouldn’t be having so many confirmation votes during the lame duck.

Those who argue that it would be "unprecedented" to confirm long-stalled nominations because they have delayed them into this lame duck session are wrong. They say that because there were no lame duck confirmations in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, or 2008, we should therefore not confirm these nominees, and we should allow nearly a dozen judicial emergency vacancies to remain unfilled. They have omitted some important facts. What they fail to acknowledge is that they have delayed action on 17 of these nominees since before the August recess. In 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996 – the first four of their purported examples – there were no lame duck sessions. Those are not precedents supporting their contentions seeking to justify their current obstruction.

It is time for the Senate GOP to put politics aside so that our judicial system – and our political system – can work for all Americans.


judges, judicial nominations, Lower Federal Courts, Obstruction, Obstructionism, Patrick Leahy