If there’s a compelling defense for how Senate Republicans are treating President Obama’s judicial nominees, no one has shared it yet. This goes well beyond the unprecedented mistreatment of Merrick Garland: Politico reported yesterday that this GOP-led Senate has confirmed “just 20 district and circuit court judges … a time when the vacancies are hampering the federal bench nationwide.”
This may seem like predictable partisanship – there’s a Democratic White House and a Republican majority in the Senate – but note that when Democrats ran the Senate for the final two years of the Bush/Cheney era, they approved 68 federal judges, more than triple what we’re seeing now.
Also note, some of the pending nominees who can’t get floor votes are jurists who enjoy bipartisan support. The White House routinely accepts consensus recommendations from senators from both parties, and there are plenty of judicial nominees championed by Republicans who are currently stuck – because GOP leaders want to shut down the confirmation process altogether out of partisan spite.
But the fight took an unintentionally funny twist yesterday when Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said that when it comes to confirming judicial nominees, it’s not part of senators’ job. The Huffington Post reported:
Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) made repeated requests Wednesday to confirm a batch of Obama’s judicial nominees who are ready for votes. Each time they tried, Tillis objected and suggested the Senate shouldn’t be spending time on judges.“What we get are things that have nothing to do with doing our jobs,” he said. “I’m doing my job today and objecting to these measures so we can actually get back to pressing matters.”
I realize that Tillis, a far-right freshman, hasn’t quite learned how to be an effective senator yet – the North Carolinian just took office last year – but to say that confirming judicial nominees has “nothing to do with doing our jobs” is baffling.
The Constitution isn’t explicit on much when it comes to lawmakers’ responsibilities, but the text is rather literal when it comes to this part of the governmental process: it is absolutely senators’ job to vote on judicial nominees.
“I’m not sure what version of the Constitution you’re reading that doesn’t say confirming judges is part of your job in the United States Senate,” Warren said in response to her colleague’s ridiculous comment.