Tensions rise over judicial nominees

Tensions rise over judicial nominees
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More than four dozen judicial nominees are in limbo as President Obama’s term draws to a close.

Senate Democrats are blasting their Republican colleagues for not only blocking the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but also 53 other judges in the lower courts, calling their obstruction “unprecedented” and “irresponsible.”

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“These are supposed to be nonpolitical positions,” Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  MORE (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary, said. “I’ve been here longer than anybody else, I’ve never seen anything so irresponsible.” 

In the last two years of the George W. Bush presidency, Leahy said, the Democratic majority confirmed 68 of his judges. In Obama’s last two years, the Republican majority has confirmed 22 judges. 

“We put through 10 of them in September just before we recessed for the election,” Leahy said. “They’re not willing to follow the Constitution, they won’t do their job.” 

The Alliance for Justice (AFJ) said Congress is on track to have the lowest number of confirmations since the session that ran from 1951 to 1952. Of Obama’s 54 judicial nominees, 25 are waiting action on the Senate floor and 29 are before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Obama added to the total last week when he put forward a nominee who would be the first Muslim American to serve as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for D.C.

Republicans say they’ve been more than fair with judicial nominees.

“This president does not have much to gripe about because he’s had well over 40 percent of the federal judiciary,” Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) said. “He’s probably had more judicial nominations than any president in recent history, so it isn’t that he’s been mistreated.”

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn presses DOJ to release results of investigation into Larry Nassar probe Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports MORE (R-Texas) pointed to Obama’s predecessor for a comparison.

“You look at the number of judges confirmed under George W. Bush and President Obama has been treated quite fairly,” he said. 

Obama has had more judges confirmed than President Bush — 327 to 325 — but Nathaniel Gryll, AFJ's legislative counsel, called the comparison "meaningless." 

“Obama has had more judges confirmed because he’s had substantially more vacancies than Bush to fill,” Gryll said. “At this point in their presidencies, Obama’s been tasked with filling approximately 60 more vacancies than Bush had faced."

Last week, as a counter to Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE’s (D-N.D.) push for all district court nominees approved by committee to be confirmed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) offered to approved a "bipartisan package of four."

Democrats refused, saying they want all or nothing.

“I think it’s completely unintended, but two of the longest waiting, highest ranking nominees are African Americans and that’s a formula we’re not going to agree to,” Heitkamp told The Hill this week. “We need the package of all of these.”

Cornyn said he’s open to confirming additional judges, but said it "depends on who they are.” 

“I’ve got some judges from Texas who have been approved by Sen. [Ted] Cruz and myself and the president,” he said. “Those sorts of choices would seem to be a logical place to go, so we’ll see. I’d certainly be open to it.” 

Cornyn said it’s ultimately up to the majority leader to decide whether to offer Democrats another deal. McConnell’s office would not comment on whether one is in the works.  

McConnell’s Spokesman David Popp said no announcements or updates are scheduled. 

Deal or no deal, Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on the cusp of formally grasping the Democratic nomination Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez defeats Valerie Plame in New Mexico primary Republican Mark Ronchetti to face Rep. Ben Ray Luján in New Mexico Senate race MORE has proposed changing the rules on confirmations to require a vote on a nominee after 180 days. 

The New Mexico Democrat said his plan would force the Senate to vote now on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and at least seven other district court judges.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said.