GOP blocks judicial nomination, says it's too close to presidential election

Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the nomination of Robert Bacharach to be a U.S. circuit judge for the Tenth Circuit court in Oklahoma on Monday because they said it violated an election-year practice.

The 56-34-3 vote came despite previously-stated support of Bacharach from the Oklahoma Republican Sens. Tom Coburn and James Inhofe. They chose not to vote against what their party leadership urged, instead they voted present. Sixty votes were needed to clear the proceedural hurdle.

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“I cannot vote against this guy, but I can vote present,” Inhofe said before the vote.

Republicans said ahead of time that they’d block the nomination because of the Thurmond-Leahy Rule — a past Senate practice not to approve judicial nominations so close to a presidential election since a possible new president would want to make their own appointments.

“Now that there is a Democrat in the White House, they refuse to follow past practice on postponing the consideration of circuit court nominations this late in an election year so the American people can decide who they want making these important appointments,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor. “They want to violate the custom in presidential election years that the [Congressional Research Service (CRS)] says they’ve been the biggest proponents of. The CRS does not say that the biggest proponent of the Leahy-Thurmond Rule is me … Rather, the CRS says that the most frequent proponent of the Rule, ‘is the current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.’”

White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler criticized Republicans for blocking the nomination.

"Judge Bacharach’s qualifications are beyond dispute: he served as a federal judge for more than a dozen years, he was unanimously deemed 'well qualified' by the American Bar Association, and he enjoys strongly bipartisan support, including the backing of both of his Republican home-state Senators and was easily reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The American people deserve better than this unprecedented partisan obstruction of the President’s efforts to ensure a fair and functioning judiciary," she said in a statement.

Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) voted for the motion to proceed on the nomination. Maine has a pending judicial nomination that the Senators want to see a vote on before the year ends. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted present.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Republican obstructionist tactics wouldn’t surprise him since they’ve blocked several other motions to proceed to judicial nominations this year.

Reid said, “blatant partisanship” during a presidential election year “would be to blame” if the motion to end debate on the nomination wasn’t passed.

"Is it something about him? No, it's all about politics," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. "If the Republicans sustain this filibuster and stop this good man… it will be the first time in the history of the United States Senate that an appeals Court nominate with bipartisan committee support has ever — ever — been filibustered on the floor of the Senate."

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Democrats used the Thurmond-Leahy Rule in previous years when there was a Republican president making the appointments.

“Now that our side seeks to invoke the rule, all we hear are complaints,” Grassley said. “If ever there was an example of crocodile tears, this is it … the suggestion that we today are operating any differently than Democrats did in 2004 and 2008 is absurd."

Reid said Bacharach would likely be the last vote on a circuit court nomination this year.

— This story was updated at 6:40 p.m.