The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee accused Republicans today of stalling the confirmation of nominees for top legal jobs.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), speaking at the start of a committee meeting, expressed frustration that the Senate has not confirmed any nominees to the federal judiciary this year. In all, he said, there are 17 nominations that the Judiciary Committee has sent to the full Senate and that are still awaiting confirmation.
"The Senate has to do better," Leahy said. "There's actually no excuse for not having moved yet."
Among those cooling their heels in the Senate are four nominees for top Justice Department jobs, the nominee to chair the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and nominees for the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 2nd, 4th, and 7th Circuits. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, nominated for administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is also awaiting a vote.
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Some of the nominees, such as Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, have drawn threats of filibusters from Republicans. But others, including Thomas Perez to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, are largely non-controversial. In all cases, senators haven't come to agreement to bring them to a vote.
The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has contributed to the slowdown among legal nominations. She is likely to be confirmed next week, and the Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he hopes to break the backlog of other nominees before the Senate recess set to begin Aug. 7.
President Barack Obama is still doing better with judicial nominations than at least one of his recent predecessors. President Bill Clinton waited until August of his first year in office to announce nominees for the circuit courts.
Five nominees for U.S. attorney are awaiting Senate votes. They include Joyce Vance for the Northern District of Alabama — a nominee whom Leahy said today was recommended by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the Judiciary Committee's top Republican. "This nominee of a Republican has been blocked by the Republican side. We've got to do better than that," Leahy said.
No Republicans were present to respond to Leahy's comments.