Sustained Outrage

Judicial nominees: 2012 and beyond?

That’s the time frame that Senate Republicans are using, according to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, one of several Democratic senators who took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to decry the pace of judicial confirmations. Here’s what Begich said:

The problem and the cynicism of Republican obstructionism is seen nowhere as obviously as in the judiciary. There are currently 103 federal judge vacancies. Several nominees reported out of the Judiciary Committee have been denied votes in the Senate by Republican obstructionism for almost 200 days. In some cases the judicial seat to be filled has been vacant for years. It is clear that—even if they are in denial about who was elected in 2008—our Republican colleagues have their sights set on 2012 and beyond, when they hope to have a huge number of federal court vacancies to be filled by a President more to their liking.

Apparently, being forced to invoke cloture over Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Milano Keenan, who was then confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit by a vote of 99-0, has rubbed a few senators the wrong way. More from Tuesday, from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner:

Justice Keenan was filibustered, in effect, because one Senator placed a hold on her. Consequently, cloture had to be filed. That was despite the strong endorsement Justice Keenan had received from our new Republican governor, Governor McDonnell. I appreciate his support of Justice Keenan. A funny thing happened when we forced the vote both on cloture and the nomination: She was confirmed unanimously. Filibustering a nominee who gets a unanimous vote, something is not right with that. That is not the way this body is supposed to work.

And North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan:

In fact, there are two judicial nominees on the calendar from North Carolina who would be easily confirmed should they come up with for a vote, Jim Wynn and Al Diaz, nominees for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. They were both approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. But truth be told, we have not just been waiting since January, we have been waiting since 1994. There has been an opening for a North Carolina judge on the Fourth Circuit since 1994. Partisan politics has gotten in the way of filling that vacancy time and again. Finally, we have not one but two qualified judges, supported by both myself and Senator Burr. Let’s bring them up for a vote

And Minnesota Sen. Al Franken:

[Keenan] was then confirmed unanimously, 99 to 0. Yet we are forced to vote for a filibuster. That is nuts. This is a perversion of the filibuster and a perversion of the role of the Senate. It used to be the filibuster was reserved for matters of great principle. Today it has become a way to play out the clock. Some of my colleagues seem more interested in using every procedural method possible to keep the Senate from doing anything then they are in creating jobs or helping Americans struggling in a difficult economy. They seem to actually want the government to fail. Why else delay things you actually agree with?… Let’s give the executive branch and the judicial branch the people they need so we can help government function in the way it is supposed to and reassure Americans that government does work for them.

Others expressing similar sentiments included Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall (both D-Colo.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), who took the opportunity to lobby on behalf of Judge Thomas Vanaskie, a federal judge in Scranton up for the 3rd Circuit.

On Wednesday, the Senate took up the nomination of O. Rogeriee Thompson, a federal judge from Rhode Island up for a seat on the 1st Circuit, and lo-and-behold, no cloture vote! Lesson learned, right?

Not so fast. Judge Thompson still had to undergo a time-consuming roll-call vote, which resulted in a 98-0 margin in her favor.