The Senate confirmed two non-controversial judicial nominees for federal district courts during a session that lasted into the early morning Saturday, part of the last scheduled business until after the presidential election more than six weeks away.
The Senate confirmed Gonzalo Curiel for the Southern District of California and Robert Shelby for the District of Utah, posts that are considered judicial emergencies because of the workload faced in the districts. Both men had the support of both of their state's senators and were approved by a voice vote.
Curiel has been a judge on the Superior Court of California in San Diego County since 2006, after spending 17 years as a federal prosecutor and 10 years in private practice. Shelby, a partner at the Salt Lake City law firm of Snow, Christensen & Martineau, had been awaiting a vote on the Senate floor for five months.
The only objection to the nominations at the Senate Judiciary Committee was a protest vote from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on an unrelated issue, forcing Lee to say he had “unequivocal support” for Shelby but voted no anyway.
The two confirmations leave 15 of President Barack Obama's district court nominees and four circuit court nominees awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. There are also a dozen district court nominees and two circuit court nominees still awaiting a vote in the judiciary committee.
The two confirmations came just a day after yet another contentious floor showdown about the overall pace of judicial nominations. The Senate will need to focus on other issues upon return to session, including pressing budget and tax issues, and many more confirmations would be unlikely before the end of the year, said Russell Wheeler, a Brookings Institution fellow who has studied judicial confirmations for decades.
However, the two confirmations also show that if they had the will, senators would need only a few minutes to confirm the remaining nominees through what is essentially a ministerial function, Wheeler said. The current nominees must be confirmed before the end of the session, or would have to be re-nominated by the White House next year.