The Senate confirmation process for federal judicial nominees has descended to a new level of contentiousness, Sen. Al Franken and a group of panelists said Tuesday at an event at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Franken told the crowd of about 50 that President Barack Obama's nominees being held up aren’t “radicals picked from the far left,” but are judges who even have the support of their home-state Republican senators. Instead, he said, they have been caught up in a stall tactic.
“Traditionally, filibusters have been considered appropriate only in extraordinary circumstances,” Franken said. “These days, it has become extraordinary when a nominee isn’t filibustered.”
On Capitol Hill this year, partisan bickering had bogged down judicial nominees for months. Some Republican senators were outspoken about voting against all judicial nominees, as a response to Obama's controversial recess appointments to consumer and labor agencies two months ago.
Senate Republicans last month threatened to filibuster otherwise non-controversial judges in response to Obama’s recess picks, but then agreed to move forward on 14 relatively non-controversial nominees before May 7.
Jeremy Paris, chief counsel for nominations and oversight for the Senate Judiciary Committee majority staff, said he thought it would take another negotiation between the parties for any more nominees to move forward after May 7.
“I think it will continue, unless we continue to press forward,” Paris said. “We’re still far behind.”
Paris said there were only 28 judicial vacancies at this point in President George W. Bush’s presidency, compared with 82 vacancies for Obama right now. That is about one in 10 judgeships that remain open, including four judicial emergencies in the overwhelmed Ninth Circuit, he said.
The comments were made during a panel discussion on the topic of how progressives should care more about judges and what they should be doing to make the courts more of a priority.
Robert Raben, the president and founder of the Raben group and chairman of the Fair Judiciary Committee, said he thinks the judicial nominee selection process is much easier for conservatives. Those nominees need the support of the U.S. Chamber, and not be in favor of abortion rights.
But on the left, Raben said there's a matrix of organizations that have concerns like reproductive rights and environmental rights and gay rights. “And and and and and,” Raben said. “It feels when you operate on the left there are 100 peremptory challenges” to overcome.