Judicial nominees are still stuck in the Senate, and both political parties are again blaming the other.
Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats Thursday afternoon to have confirmation votes on 17 non-controversial nominees for U.S. district courts across the nation, including 12 who would fill seats in districts considered to be "judicial emergencies."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised the objection to the votes, which means Democrats would have to go through a time-consuming cloture process to force a vote on each nominee. McConnell said the Senate already has met historic norms for confirming judges in this presidential year.
"Not only is President Obama being treated fairly in absolute terms, but the Senate is also treating him fairly relative to the number of nominees he has submitted," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "I am happy to work with the majority leader, but we cannot allow the majority to jam us here at the end of this session."
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed for the votes on every district judge nominee awaiting action on the Senate floor, 14 of whom were non-controversial and approved from the Senate Judiciary Committee by voice vote.
"No matter how we try to juggle the numbers, we still have 12 emergencies," Reid said on the floor. "I hope my friends on the other side would at least look at some of those emergencies and see if we could get some help for those beleaguered judges out there and the court personnel."
For the 28 district court nominees the Senate has voted on this year, Reid said he filed cloture 19 times.
"In other words, we have had to break a Republican filibuster on 67 percent of the district judges we have considered and confirmed," Reid said. "The kind of qualified consensus nominees who in years past would have been confirmed in a matter of minutes are now taking weeks and months, languishing with no action. These votes should be routine."
An expert on judicial confirmations agrees with Reid. Russell Wheeler, a Brookings Institution fellow, wrote a guest column in Politico September 18 that suggested this type of back and forth could signal a new more troubling norm for nominees.
"A government that can't do its mundane business is surely unlikely to be able to deal with more controversial problems," Wheeler wrote. "History shows that the Senate should be able to confirm a respectable number of long-standing district court nominations before Election Day --certainly before adjournment.
"If it cannot, this may signal that the past four years of delayed and confrontational nominations have not been an aberration but represent the new normal of district court confirmations," Wheeler said.