Today marks the beginning of the lame duck session of Congress, and the Senate has a lot to do this month and next to meet its basic constitutional obligations to ensure that the federal government is actually able to function. While that entails headline-grabbing matters like passing a spending resolution to keep the government open, it also entails confirming nominees to critically important executive and judicial positions. For instance, a confirmation vote on Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy, which has been delayed for months, is long overdue. The Senate also has time to fill vacancies at the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Education, among others.
And the Senate can and should vote on at least 24 district court judicial nominees. Sixteen district court nominees are already pending on the Senate floor, all of whom could have easily had a vote back in September, if not earlier. Another eight district court nominees are scheduled for committee approval tomorrow, although many people expect Republicans to demand a delay until next week.
But even with that committee delay, history shows there should be more than enough time in the next few weeks to confirm all of these district court nominees.
President George W. Bush's confirmed district nominees waited on average only a month after committee approval before getting a floor vote. In fact, half of Bush's district court judges waited only three weeks or less after committee approval, a figure that has plummeted to 2% for President Obama's district court judges. Treating Obama's nominees like Bush's would give the Senate plenty of time to do its job.
It's also worth noting that in the fall of 2008, at the twilight of the Bush presidency, the Democratic Senate still made a point of ensuring votes on his district court nominees. On September 26, 2008, the Senate confirmed by unanimous consent ten district court nominees who had been cleared by the Judiciary Committee only the day before. In fact, the Judiciary Committee had voted on them all within two weeks of their hearing, half of them within two days of their hearing. Republicans did not move to block or delay those nominees.
So don't let anyone tell you there isn't time for the Senate to confirm nominees during this lame duck session and still get its other work done. It is only the double standard that Senate Republicans apply to President Obama's nominees that will require Democrats to jump through so many procedural hoops in order to hold confirmation votes. But this year or next, the GOP's unceasing obstruction tactics should not be accepted as business as usual.