Only one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominations has a clear path to Senate confirmation this year—U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, nominated to a key Washington federal appeals court.
Wilkins' nomination last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was held over during the holiday break, giving Senators a chance to take action now without first having to repeat earlier procedural steps.
The same isn't the case for 55 other nominees, each of whom were not held over. The White House re-nominated 54 of them Monday, and now they must start the confirmation process back at the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The nominees won't have to redo questionnaires or their confirmation hearings. But Republicans, stripped of their ability to block judicial nominees on the Senate floor last year, might continue to delay or block nominees at the committee level, as they did in December.
As Wilkins could get a full confirmation vote as early as this week for a seat on the D.C. Circuit, judiciary committee meetings Wednesday and Thursday could prove a bellwether for how confirmations this year for everyone else awaiting votes.
There are 29 federal judicial nominations—5 for circuit seats and 24 district court picks—on the committee's business meeting agenda Thursday. Republicans could continue procedural tricks to prevent the committee from advancing the nominations to the full Senate.
In December, for instance, no Republicans attended a committee business meeting, which meant the committee could not advance a slate of judicial and other nominees to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. If a Republican does not appear at the business meeting this week, the committee would be in the same situation.
Republicans in December also used procedural tactics to delay a confirmation hearing for judicial nominees from California, Maine, Maryland, and Kansas, committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.
"The families of these nominees invested time and personal expense to travel to Washington for this hearing, losses they will never recover," Leahy said in a statement at the time. "This escalating obstruction undermines the Senate's constitutional responsibility of advice and consent."
The committee hearings this week will be the first since Republicans refused to allow currently pending judicial nominees to be "held over" the holiday break. If they had been held over, they would be at the same part of the confirmation process this year as they were earlier.
In previous congressional breaks in recent time, Republicans have sent back certain judicial nominations of lawyers they did not want to see confirmed, such as Caitlin Halligan's nomination for the D.C. Circuit.
This time around, the list included 55 nominees: Nine lawyers who were approved by the committee and awaiting Senate confirmation votes; 15 nominees who were ready for committee votes but never got them; and another 31 who were still working through the committee level. Wilkins' nomination was held over because of where it was in the Senate confirmation process.
"Each of these nominations represents a significant amount of work by the nominees themselves, the White House, the Department of Justice, and Senate staff on both sides of the aisle," Leahy said on the Senate floor Dec. 20, the last working day of 2013.
The White House did not re-nominate one judge, William Thomas of Florida, who faced opposition from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Thomas, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, would have been the first black, openly gay federal trial judge.
There is another Senate Judiciary Committee fight brewing over the use of "blue slips," a tradition that gives senators de facto veto power over nominees from their home state. Rubio used the tactic to block Thomas.
"I will continue to honor the blue slip policy as it currently stands, but I hope that Republicans will not abuse this tradition and force me to reconsider," Leahy said in remarks in December.