- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Senate confirmed President Obama’s 20th straight judicial nominee this year after nearly a dozen Republicans bucked their party leader and sided with Democrats Wednesday to allow an up-or-down vote on a controversial district court candidate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, had tried to filibuster a final vote on the nominee, John J. McConnell Jr., saying he was anti-business and unfit to hold a federal bench. The senator is no relation to the nominee.

But 11 Republicans, including some who spoke out against the nominee, said Mr. Obama - like his predecessor President George W. Bush - deserved the courtesy of having his judicial nominees receive straight up-or-down votes.

“I certainly wish that President Obama had nominated someone other the Mr. McConnell,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of 11 Republicans to vote in favor of giving Mr. McConnell an up-or-down vote. “Well, the Senate has a more than 200-year history. And that history is not to use the filibuster to defeat a district judge nomination.”

The filibuster was overcome by a 63-33 vote. Mr. McConnell’s confirmation was sealed later in the day by a straight party-line vote of 50-44, with five senators not voting. There is one Senate vacancy.

Rhode Island Democratic Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, who recommended Mr. McConnell’s nomination to the president, hailed the bipartisan effort to advance his confirmation.

“Jack McConnell is eminently qualified,” the senators said in a joint statement. “His confirmation will help clear the backlog of federal cases in Rhode Island and improve the court’s capacity to administer justice.”

Historically, district court judge nominations sent from the White House to the Senate are confirmed easily with little or no debate. During Mr. Obama’s first two years in office, however, Democrats complained that Senate Republicans routinely held up the president’s judicial nominations for months or longer.

In a gentleman’s agreement brokered in January, Sen. McConnell vowed to use the filibuster less in exchange for a promise by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to allow Republicans more opportunities to offer amendments to legislation.

Before Wednesday’s vote, the Senate had confirmed all 19 of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominations that reached the chamber floor this year. All were approved unanimously or via a simple voice vote.

But the nomination of Mr. McConnell to be a district judge in Rhode Island had threatened Mr. Obama’s perfect 2011 run of judicial nominees sailing through the Senate. On Monday, Mr. Reid, citing Republican opposition to the nominee, used a parliamentary tactic intended to overcome a GOP filibuster.

The cloture motion, rarely used for district judge nominees, limited debate on the nominee but also required the OK of at least 60 senators - instead of the typical 50 - in the 100-seat chamber before the nomination could proceed toward a final vote. Democrats control 53 seats in the Senate.

Also Wednesday, Mr. Obama sent the Senate six more district court nominations.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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