Last year, not a single Obama judicial nominee was confirmed while the Senate spent months on the vacancy created by Justice David Souter's retirement. This year, Democrats say they are determined not to let the same thing happen because of Justice John Paul Stevens' decision to step down.
At a news conference, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they plan to push for confirmation of more district and circuit judges over the next several weeks, and they said they have the agreement of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to force the issue.
The pledge represents a shift of priorities. Bringing a nomination to a vote without Republican senators’ consent requires using scarce time on the Senate floor, and so far Democrats have committed little floor time to President Barack Obama’s judge picks.
“I think we can do more than one thing at a time,” said Leahy (above, left), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Calling the Republicans’ objections to holding votes “unprecedented,” he said “it should not be an either-or” between confirming Stevens’ successor or confirming lower-court nominees.
Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, said he hopes Republicans will refrain from using the nomination of Stevens’ successor as an “excuse” to hold up other nominees.
“And if not,” Schumer said, “we are going to rev it up. We are going to stay in as long as it takes — even if it means nights, weekends — to get these nominees through, because it’s just unpardonable, unexplainable.”
Seven of Obama’s circuit nominees have been confirmed so far, the same as President George W. Bush’s circuit nominees at this point in his presidency. There’s a sharp disparity in confirmed district court nominees: 11 so far for Obama versus 35 for Bush at this point. At least part of the reason is that the Obama White House was slower in sending nominees to the Senate. There are 22 Obama federal judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor, having been endorsed by the Judiciary Committee.
Schumer highlighted the nomination of U.S. District Judge Denny Chin for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Chin, who sits in the Southern District of New York, would be the only active Asian-American federal appellate judge if he were confirmed.
“He’s going to pass overwhelmingly, but they’re holding him up. And when you ask the reason, there is none,” he said.
UPDATE (1:11 p.m.): A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) replies in an e-mail that Leahy and Schumer were two of 26 Democratic senators who voted to filibuster the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito Jr.
Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.