At a critical moment for President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, the Senate today confirmed law professor Christopher Schroeder to a top policy position that advises on nominees.
Schroeder won confirmation on a 72-24 vote to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy. The office helps the White House to vet and win confirmation of nominees for district and circuit court vacancies. Also, it has historically advised presidents on shepherding Supreme Court picks through the Senate.
Obama is about on pace with President George W. Bush in getting new judges confirmed to the circuit courts of appeal, but he lags Bush 37-11 when it comes to district judges confirmed at this point in the presidential term. Republicans are threatening to filibuster at least one Obama nominee, University of California, Berkeley, law professor Goodwin Liu for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Democrats have said they plan to prioritize judicial nominations over the next several weeks, before the nomination of Justice John Paul Stevens’ successor ties up the Senate.
Republicans had held up Schroeder’s nomination in part because of his views on the federal bench. In response to a written question from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Schroeder defended the idea, espoused by Obama, that empathy is a desirable quality in judicial nominees. (Schroeder, a professor at Duke Law School, also co-wrote a book, “Keep Faith with the Constitution,” with Liu and a third law professor, Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School.)
Obama nominated Schroeder in May 2009. He has taught at Duke on and off since 1979. He served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration. He was also chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1992, under then-Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.), and he was Biden’s impeachment counsel in 1999. He has been of counsel to O’Melveny & Myers since 2005.
“Chris has excellent credentials and broad experience in law and government,” said Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), a former chief of staff to Biden who spoke on the Senate floor today. Kaufman touted the letter of support Schroeder received from O’Melveny’s chairman, Arthur Culvahouse Jr., who was White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a speech that the Senate should have confirmed Schroeder long ago. Today’s vote came only after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in what’s known as a motion for cloture, asked senators Friday to cut off debate on the nomination.
“For someone who’s going to be confirmed easily, it shouldn’t be necessary for the majority leader to have to file cloture,” Leahy said earlier today.
No Republicans spoke for or against Schroeder’s nomination today.
UPDATE (2:55 p.m.): Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. just released a statement calling Schroeder an "experienced and talented attorney." He added, "The Office of Legal Policy serves a crucial role at the department in coordinating some of our most important projects and initiatives."
UPDATE II (4:30 p.m.): The Senate's presiding officer gave the vote tally as 71-25. The tally as corrected by Senate clerks is 72-24.