Sustained Outrage

Keenan confirmation vote scheduled

BarbaraMilanoKeenanJust like clockwork, the Senate has scheduled a vote tomorrow for Barbara Milano Keenan (right), the Virginia state Supreme Court Justice who was nominated by President Obama in September for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Why clockwork? Well, the Senate seems to have settled on four months as the appropriate amount of time for a nominee to an appellate court to wait for a vote after passing out of committee. The Judiciary Committee approved Keenan unanimously on Oct. 29, and lo and behold, four months later, she’s up for a vote. Here’s a look at the circuit judges who have been confirmed, and the lag time between committee approval and their final vote:

David F. Hamilton, 7th Circuit: Six and 1/2 months

Andre M. Davis, 4th Circuit: Four months

Gerald Lynch, 2nd Circuit: Three and 1/2 months

Beverly Baldwin Martin, 11th Circuit: Four months

Joseph A. Greenaway Jr., 3rd Circuit: Four months

Hamilton is the outlier, since Senate Republicans chose to use his nomination to send a message to the president that they are willing to hold his nominees hostage for political gain, even non-controversial centrists like Hamilton.

Last week, Sens. Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner, both D-Va., took to the Senate floor to lobby on behalf of Keenan. Webb noted that when he was sworn in last month, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell specifically requested that Keenan administer the oath of office, adding:

I would like to respectfully request in the name of good governance and the proper functioning of our constitutional system that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to allow a prompt vote on her nomination. Justice Keenan was voted out of committee in October of last year, by a unanimous voice vote.  Her nomination is non-controversial.  She has been a dedicated public servant, a fair and balanced jurist, and her nomination has broad bipartisan support.  I believe it is critical that we move forward as quickly as possible to confirm her nomination.

There are currently four vacancies on the Fourth Circuit, more than any other circuit.  The seat that Justice Keenan would fill has been vacant now for more than two years.

[N]ow, in the spirit of pragmatic bipartisanship and good governance, I believe it is time to move past procedural delays that seem to infect us and get on with the business of governing.

I would like to point out that out of 876 federal judgeships there are currently 100 vacancies.  These vacancies delay the administration of justice, they delay the resolution of disputes, and they diminish our citizens’ right to a speedy trial.

It is my understanding that Justice Keenan has broad support in this body, the vote in the Judiciary Committee is evidence of that. In face I would be very surprised if any senator were to vote against her confirmation. Again, I am asking my colleagues across the aisle if they might allow this nomination to advance in a timely way.

I’m guessing that Albert Diaz and James Wynn, two North Carolina judges up for seats on the 4th Circuit who passed out of committee on Jan. 28, have circled the first week of June on their calendars.

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., also published an op-ed piece last week, lamenting the slow pace of confirmations, particularly in regards to Thomas I. Vanaskie, a federal judge from Pennsylvania up for a seat on the 3rd Circuit.

Republican inaction on nominations is paralyzing the work of the Senate and putting the government’s ability to confront the nation’s challenges at risk.

We have seen much obstructionism by the minority in this Congress, but nothing compares to the gridlock on nominations. During President Obama’s first year, 46 executive nominees waited at least three months to be confirmed, 45 waited at least four months, and nine took six months or longer. Inaction on these qualified nominees, many in defense-related and national security posts, is unacceptable.

This applies to nominations for federal judgeships, many to important or long- vacant jurisdictions. Currently, 14 judicial nominees, who have been approved – in many cases unanimously – by the Senate Judiciary Committee are awaiting confirmation in the face of Republican objections, many of them specious or just plain outlandish. It is time to put partisan politics aside and work to fill these positions as quickly as possible.

Specter must not have gotten the GOP memo: Vanaskie passed out of committee on Dec. 3. In all likelihood, he won’t be confirmed before early April.