Good news: The Senate held a confirmation vote on a judicial nominee today. Bad news: The Senate held a confirmation vote on only one judicial nominee today.
Ann Donnelly, set to fill a judicial emergency in the Eastern District of New York, was cleared by a unanimous Judiciary Committee way back on June 4, more than four months ago. On the same day, the committee also unanimously voted to advance two other New York nominees to the full Senate. Yet after months of delay, Majority Leader McConnell is finally allowing a vote on only one of the three. Also being ignored are an additional six judicial nominees from other states who were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee. Most of the stalled nominees have been awaiting their floor vote since June or July. All should have been confirmed by now.
It is hard to fathom a legitimate reason to refuse to schedule a vote on judicial nominees who have been fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee. After all, that is one of the most important functions of the United States Senate, one that is specifically tasked to it by the Constitution. Article III, which established the federal courts, was not some afterthought tossed into the nation’s charter document. When the Senate abdicates its responsibility to consider judicial nominees, it sabotages the effectiveness of the judicial system that is indispensable in protecting the rights of the American people.
Like President Obama, George W. Bush had a Senate controlled by the opposing party in his last two years in office. But the disparity in how the Senate carried out its constitutional responsibilities is stark. While the Democratically-controlled Senate had voted on 33 of Bush’s judges at this point in 2007, New York’s Ann Donnelly will be only the eighth judge voted on this year. Vacancies nationwide are up by more than 50% since the beginning of the year, and judicial emergencies have more than doubled.
So why are Senate Republicans refusing to hold confirmation votes for New York nominees Lawrence Vilardo and LaShann DeArcy Hall? Why must individuals and businesses in Tennessee be forced to endure understaffed courts rather than have the Senate vote on nominees Waverly Crenshaw and Travis McDonough? Why do Senate Republicans refuse to allow votes on Mimi Wright of Minnesota, Paula Xinis of Maryland, and John Vazquez of New Jersey?
Perhaps most egregious is the Senate GOP’s obstinate refusal to grant timely consideration to L. Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, whose nomination to the Third Circuit is nearly a year old. Nominated with the support of both home state senators – Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey – Restrepo was fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee without opposition. He would fill a vacancy that has been designated a judicial emergency. While his nomination has been pending, a second vacancy has opened on the same court, making his confirmation even more vital. Yet despite his words of support for Restrepo, Toomey has collaborated with his GOP colleagues in making sure that his eventual confirmation be delayed as long as possible.
So today’s confirmation vote for Ann Donnelly is good news. But the Senate’s refusal to vote on the eight other long-waiting circuit and district court nominees is bad news – bad news for the Senate, bad news for the judiciary, and bad news for the Americans whose access to justice is being sacrificed for partisan reasons.