GOP tactics stymie judicial nominees

Obama picks stranded in limbo

A determined Republican stall campaign in the Senate has sidetracked so many of the men and women nominated by President Obama for judgeships that he has put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago.

The delaying tactics have proved so successful, despite the Democrats’ substantial Senate majority, that fewer than half of Mr. Obama’s nominees have been confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships are vacant.

Forty-seven of those vacancies have been labeled emergencies by the judiciary because of heavy caseloads.

Even some Republican senators have complained. Sen. Lamar Alexander took to the Senate floor in July to plead with his own leaders for a vote on an appeals court judge supported by Mr. Alexander and fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.

With Congress returning Sept. 13 for a session shortened by members’ desire to campaign for re-election in November, there’s little time to reverse the trend. Some say there’s little chance of reversing it as polls show a rising chance the GOP will capture the Senate, which could stiffen GOP resistance to confirmation votes.

The Obama administration got a slow start sending names to the Senate last year and has yet to try to fill two vacancies on the high-profile federal appeals court in the District of Columbia, where four current Supreme Court justices once served.

Mr. Obama has voiced only tepid public objection as more and more of his judicial nominees become stranded in Senate limbo, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been unwilling to set aside the considerable time needed to force votes under complex Senate rules.

Now there are 45 nominees awaiting action, two for nearly 13 months. After Mr. Alexander’s complaint, the Republicans agreed to allow a mid-September vote for appeals court nominee Jane Stranch, first nominated by Mr. Obama in August 2009.

At this point in President George W. Bush’s first term, 72 judges had been confirmed by a Senate that Democrats controlled for much of Mr. Bush’s first two years. By contrast, the Senate has had 59 or 60 seats under Democratic control during Obama’s tenure but has only confirmed 40 of his judges. Nixon got 33 judges through a Democrat-controlled Senate.

“What’s interesting is you got a guy [Mr. Bush] who was barely elected president with a Senate in the hands of the opposing party, and he is going to come out better in his first two years than a guy who got elected with a big majority and had a big majority in the Senate, too,” said Brookings Institution scholar Russell Wheeler.

White House counsel Bob Bauer and progressive groups squarely blame Republicans.

The Senate GOP is obstructing “confirmations across the board, even forcing noncontroversial nominees who passed committee with overwhelming bipartisan support to wait months for a floor vote,” Mr. Bauer said.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal People for the American Way, said that stalling votes on judges is “part and parcel of the general obstruction we’re seeing right now.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has acknowledged that his strategy is partly payback for Democrats’ blocking some Bush appointees.

But McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the responsibility for the lack of confirmations lies with Mr. Obama, who nominated just 33 people to judgeships in 2009, and Mr. Reid, who controls the Senate calendar.

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