Updated 4:22 p.m., 7/24/12
The Senate voted nearly unanimously Monday to confirm Michael Shipp to be a judge for the District of New Jersey, even though the vote became the focus of partisan bickering about control of the Senate floor.
Shipp, former counsel to a New Jersey attorney general who became a magistrate in that district five years ago, was confirmed with a 91-1 vote. Both Republicans and Democrats supported Shipp, described on the Senate floor as "coming from humble beginnings” and having “strong qualifications and a reputation for excellence."
But Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had to force a vote on the nomination of Shipp by filing for cloture, because Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) threatened to filibuster the nomination. Paul wanted Reid to allow a floor vote on a measure to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan until the release of an incarcerated informant who helped American forces find and kill Osama bin Laden last year, CQ reported earlier today.
Late Monday afternoon, however, Paul backed down and the vote on the non-controversial nominee went forward. But the debate on the floor turned bitter between Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the ranking member of that committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
"The cloture vote that was vitiated had nothing to do with the judicial confirmation process in general, or this nominee in particular," Grassley said on the floor. Instead, Republicans are getting tired of Democrats using parliamentary procedures to prohibit amendments, block votes, and deny or limit debate, he said.
"So when a senator who seeks a vote on his amendment is stymied time after time, it is not surprising that the senator would use Senate rules and procedures to bring pressure on the majority leader for a vote," Grassley said.
That method of using procedures to stymie Republicans also has crept down to the Judiciary Committee, where judicial nominees are first vetted, Grassley said. Leahy snapped back, saying he has always given members of the other party an opportunity to speak and accused Grassley of attacking him without going through the courtesy of notifying him first.
"While I am pleased we are holding a confirmation vote today, it should not have required that the majority leader file for cloture," Leahy said in his floor statement. "This was the 29th time the majority Leader had been forced to file for cloture to end a Republican filibuster and get an up-or-down vote for one of President Obama’s judicial nominees."
Through all of that, the non-controversial Shipp sailed through. Only Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) cast a vote against him as a protest vote, as he has for every judicial nominee since President Barack Obama's controversial recess appointments in January.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) lauded Shipp’s character. "Not only does he bring a sincerity about wanting to do the right thing, but he has the knowledge and sensitivity that will make him a terrific district judge," Lautenberg said. "I have no doubt that he'll continue his excellence as a judge on the United States District Court."
Before his appointment as a magistrate, Shipp worked for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office for five years, first as assistant attorney general in charge of consumer protection and as counsel to the state’s attorney general in 2007.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Shipp has deep roots in the community and a history of helping outside the courtroom. "Everyone who has dealt with him, everyone who knows him, is familiar with Judge Shipp's strong qualifications and reputation for excellence," Menendez said.
Shipp's nomination was approved in the committee with a voice vote in April. He was one of 21 judicial nominees pending on the Senate calendar awaiting final floor consideration.