During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney discussed the vacancy crisis that is plaguing America’s federal courts – and the unprecedented obstruction in the Senate that is causing it. When he observed that the pace of confirmations has never been slower, a reporter from Fox News interrupted with the inaccurate statement that the pace is about the same as under the previous two presidents. However, Carney stuck to the facts:
Well, I disagree with that. And we continue to work with the Senate to get qualified nominees confirmed by the Senate as appropriate. We had some progress recently where a number of nominees both to the bench and to the administration were moved forward. And what I think is absolutely the case and indisputable, Wendell, is that we’ve never had a situation where nominees to whom no serious objection is put forward, nominees who clear committee overwhelmingly, nominees who are absolutely qualified for the post that they’ve been nominated for, are then held up interminably for political reasons. That’s not how it should be. And we’ve obviously made the case against that kind of highly politicized behavior.
He is correct. It is unprecedented for one party in the Senate to prevent confirmation votes for month after month, delaying consensus nominees who were long ago approved by the Judiciary Committee (usually with overwhelming bipartisan support). The obstruction has become so bad that President Obama’s nominees now take more than four times as long on average to get a confirmation vote than was the case with President Bush’s confirmed nominees at this point in his presidency. Senate Republicans are making a major effort to obscure this inconvenient truth.
That’s why there are now 17 pending nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. A third of these were nominated to fill vacancies classified as judicial emergencies. More than half – nine of the 17 – are women or people of color whose only crime seems to be that they were nominated by a Democratic president.
Most have been waiting since March or earlier for a simple yes-or-no vote. But they aren’t the only ones waiting: So are the people in the communities these nominees would serve. They are waiting year after year for justice to be done, because there are not enough judges available to hear the cases in a reasonable amount of time. Meanwhile, their lives are on hold, while Senate Republicans use them as pawns to score political points.