The Filibuster Tango – ‘Let’s act like grownups’

By Matt Loffman

Apr 13, 2010 1:50pm

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports: With a high-profile Supreme Court nomination in the offing, Democrats are taking the opportunity to accuse Republicans of obstructing lower court appointments as well. Republicans have their own opinions and fired back the confirmation process is moving along just fine. Democrats pledged to “rev up” their attempts to get votes on lower court nominees. “We are going to rev it up, even if it means working nights, weekends,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and is part of the Democratic leadership. Schumer pointed to the nomination of Denny Chin, currently a district court judge, who has been nominated to sit on the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals. Chin would become the only sitting Asian American federal appeals court judge. And his nomination is not particularly controversial; he passed unanimously out of the judiciary committee. But Democrats say Republicans have insisted on a cloture vote for Chin, which would eat up valuable floor time. Another judge, Barbara Keenan, was confirmed in March to sit on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote was 99-0, but it required a cloture petition and floor time to get there. No Obama judicial nominees have yet been filibustered. All Republicans would have to support the move to block a nominee. Instead, because the Senate floor schedule is so crowded, Democratic leaders have been unable to spend the days of floor time needed for a cloture vote. “Let’s act like grownups here,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, pointing to a backlog of nominees. He noted that he is one of only a handful of sitting Senators who voted to confirm Justice John Paul Stevens in 1975. That entire process, from nomination to confirmation hearing to vote on the floor took 20 days. The Supreme Court confirmation process under President Bush and now President Obama takes much longer – at least two months. To date during the Obama presidency, Democrats have been able to confirm 11 District Court judges, 7 Circuit Court Judges and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Democrats complain that at this point in George W. Bush’s Presidency even though Democrats narrowly controlled the Senate, there were 35 District Court and 7 Circuit Court judges confirmed. And Democrats point out that judges waited less time – about a week – between receiving a favorable recommendation from the judiciary committee and getting a final vote in comparable spots during the Bush and Obama presidencies. Chin, for instance, had nobody oppose him when the Judiciary Committee favorably reported him to the Senate floor on December 10th. “We could get it done in a half an hour,” railed Schumer. “But they’re blocking him. Reason given: None.” A confirmation hearing is set for this Friday for one controversial pick, President Obama’s nomination of Goodwin Liu, a UC Berkeley law professor and liberal favorite, to sit on the 9th Circuit Court of appeals. Things slowed down for Bush as his presidency proceeded, although even after Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, he confirmed 10 Circuit Court and 58 District Court nominees. But Republicans have hard feelings over several nominees who Democrats never allowed an up or down vote. And two Bush-era nominees never even got hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Today Republican staffers compiled their own data. In a memo distributed to reporters, they argued that President Obama is partially at fault for the slow rate of confirmations; he has, they said, been slow on the draw to nominate judges in the first place. The first factoid they pointed out is that Leahy has cast more votes against considering a judicial nominee than any other sitting Senator. That tidbit could not immediately be independently verified. And they argued that the only reason there was such a large number of vacancies for Obama to fill is that Democrats were slow to confirm nominees in the waning years of the Bush administration. When will Democrats start working nights and weekends to confirm judicial nominees? Schumer gave no date, but said, “Soon. Stay tuned. Soon.”

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