Fight over judicial nominees on two fronts

Updated
Sen. Patrick Leahy  expresses frustration as the seats on the Republican side of the Senate panel remain empty, causing the cancellation of a meeting to consider President Barack Obama'€™s judicial nominations, Nov. 21, 2013.
Sen. Patrick Leahy expresses frustration as the seats on the Republican side of the Senate panel remain empty, causing the cancellation of a meeting to consider President Barack Obama’€™s judicial nominations, Nov. 21, 2013.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP
It’s been several months since Senate Democrats executed the so-called “nuclear option,” ending unprecedented filibusters of judicial and administrative nominees. At the time, the restoration of the Senate’s traditions seemed to open the door to institutional progress – if the Republican minority could no longer demand supermajorities for every nominee, the confirmation process could finally move more smoothly.
 
But since December, the Senate has confirmed just one judge: Robert Wilkins was approved to serve on the D.C. Circuit. There are 32 other judicial nominees who’ve cleared committee and are awaiting floor votes.
 
So what’s the hold up? GOP senators may not be able to filibuster these nominees anymore, but they’re still relying on every possible procedural trick they know to prevent qualified judges from receiving confirmation votes. In some cases, Republicans are announcing their opposition to nominees they personally recommended. In others, they’re taking advantage of the blue-slip process.
 
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has occasionally taken the lead in refusing Democratic efforts to consider non-controversial nominees as a bloc. (Alexander is an odd choice to lead on this issue, given how much credibility he lost when he broke his word on this very issue.)
 
But in an interesting twist, President Obama’s efforts to fill vacancies on the federal bench aren’t just running into trouble as a result of Republican obstructionism. Very recently, some Obama nominees are running into Democratic opposition, too.
 
Adam Serwer reported yesterday on the “revolt” the White House is facing on some nominees pushed by Republicans and grudgingly accepted by Obama.
The abortion rights group NARAL last week announced its opposition to nominee Michael Boggs, joining a coalition of Democratic members of Congress from Georgia and celebrated civil rights leaders like Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery. The group had already been calling for the president to withdraw Boggs, a former Democratic Georgia state representative, and Mark Cohen, an attorney who defended the state’s voter ID law.
 
Both judges were approved as part of a package deal between the White House and Georgia’s two conservative Republican Senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.
Boggs, in particular, brings with him a very conservative worldview, fighting against gay rights and reproductive rights, while supporting an effort to keep a Confederate symbol on Georgia’s state flag. He’s often touted the importance of “Christian values” in policymaking.
 
So why in the world is he an Obama judicial nominee? Because Georgia’s Republican senators recommended him and the White House struck a deal with them. (The deal pre-dates the nuclear option, when the president’s team was still trying to get GOP support for more up-or-down votes.*)
 
Progressive groups will very likely keep up the fight to confirm most of Obama’s judicial nominees, but don’t be surprised if they fight just as hard to reject nominees like Boggs.
 
* Correction: The president’s team negotiated with Georgia’s Republican senators over blue slips, not over floor votes.
 

Judicial Nominees and Nuclear Option

Fight over judicial nominees on two fronts

Updated