Harry Reid Moving Judicial Nominations Forward, Despite Republican Obstruction

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture yesterday on the nomination of John B. Owens to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—one that has been declared a judicial emergency and which has been vacant for almost 10 years. This moves forward the Senate judicial confirmations process that has been relentlessly slowed down by GOP obstruction. In an atmosphere of constant delays, it is commendable that Sen. Reid is taking action to get nominees confirmed, especially circuit court nominees.

Because of obstruction by Senate Republicans, nominations for the circuit court have been made particularly cumbersome. As we explained last month, if Senators refuse to provide “unanimous consent” to schedule a vote, Sen. Reid is forced to file a cloture petition to allow a yes or no vote on the nominee. Once cloture is invoked,  Senate rules allow the minority to insist on “post-cloture debate”— up to 30 hours for circuit court nominees.

With six circuit court nominees now on the Senate calendar, (including the most recent addition, Fifth Circuit nominee Gregg Costa, who was recommended unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning) and more in the pipeline, Republicans can tie the Senate up for 180 hours of needless “post cloture debate” – that is weeks of floor time that could be spent doing something useful. Time is growing short to get them all confirmed by the end of the year. One easy answer is for Senate Republicans to forego their delaying tactics and permit the Senate to both confirm judicial nominees and perform the other important work waiting to be done. Until that happens, Sen. Reid should be applauded for pushing the process forward.


Senate to Hold Cloture Votes on TN and AR Judicial Nominees

Early this week, the Senate is scheduled to hold cloture votes on four judicial nominees, including Timothy Brooks, nominee for the Western District of Arkansas and Pamela Reeves, nominee for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Brooks and Reeves have been waiting for confirmation votes on the Senate floor since October 31 and November 14, respectively.

As we noted earlier this month, Republicans are routinely delaying nominations on the Senate floor by requiring Democrats to invoke cloture on every single judicial nominee and then piling on hours of unneeded “post-cloture debate” for each nominee who is called up for a vote. This practice creates a weeks-long backlog of nominees awaiting votes and prevents the Senate from moving on to other business. Nominees like Brooks and Reeves could have been confirmed within minutes after they were sent to the Senate floor last year. Instead, both of these nominations were sent back to the  president in early January at the end of the first session of the 113th Congress to be re-nominated. After further needless delays in Committee, the nominees were finally placed on the Senate calendar only to wait an additional two months for consideration.

After the Senate has finally worked through the backlog of nominees to get to the Arkansas and Tennessee vacancies, Republicans are throwing up additional roadblocks, forcing Senator Reid to file cloture petitions, which will further delay their consideration. These nonsensical delays of well qualified nominees undermine the public’s faith in the Senate and create hardship for those seeking justice in the courts.


Reid Calls Out Republicans on Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) absurd claim that this Congress has done well in confirming judicial nominees. In fact, Republicans have not consented to even one judicial confirmation vote since November. The few votes that have been held since then have been over GOP filibusters. Unfortunately, Senate rules allow them to demand hours of needless “post cloture debate” after every cloture vote, so it could take weeks and weeks of Senate floor time to get through all the nominees waiting for a simple yes-or-no vote.

Reid was quick to voice that the confirmation process has been unnecessarily delayed by GOP obstruction:

Everyone knows that we are in this situation because of Republicans slow-walking every nomination—every nomination. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever that we are having votes on cloture on these judges.

“It is a waste of the taxpayers’ time to go through the process we’ve been going through.

Reid, aware of the prolonged time they will spend clearing the backlog due to these procedural delays, promised that they will get through filing cloture on all of the nominees.

If that’s what the Republicans want us to do, then that’s what we’ll do. The American people will see this colossal waste of time that we’ve been going through.


Where is Speaker Boehner hiding all the good bills like ENDA?

At a press conference yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) posed a question that you might also be wondering about:

Where is the secret vault in the US House where Speaker Boehner is hiding all the good bills?

Leader Reid makes a good point. Why "lock away" the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when 68 percent of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, believe that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees should be protected by federal law? Why keep the House from voting on ENDA when 8 out of 10 voters already think such a law exists?

Is Speaker Boehner afraid it will pass?


Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA):

The message from all the senators was clear:

It's our message, too.

Speaker Boehner needs to decide whether he will cave to that kind of bigotry or stand with the vast majority of voters who support this legislation.

Here are a few other highlights from the final day of Senate debate on ENDA.

Again from Leader Reid:

Senator Al Franken (D-MN):

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH):

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME):

Senators who stood on the right side of history and voted for passage should be thanked. Senators who stood with anti-gay extremists should hear your disappointment. There are more instructions here and here, and you can always reach them by dialing 202-224-3121.

As we move on to the House, if you have not added your name already, sign our petition now to keep the pressure on all of Congress to pass ENDA.

The time is now!


Senators Pryor and Manchin join list of ENDA supporters, contact your senators now

On Monday, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will come up for a vote before Thanksgiving, and Senator Bill Nelson added his name to the bill.

Late Tuesday came word that Senator Mark Pryor will vote yes on ENDA.

Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times:

I've just received a brief message from Sen. Mark Pryor's office. It's big news. Said a note from Michael Teague of his staff:

"He'll vote yes on ENDA."

This is big news.

Then moments ago Senator Joe Manchin jumped on board.

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times:

Senator Pryor is No. 58 and Manchin No. 59 on the road to passing ENDA. That's a strong majority, but unfortunately because of the unprecedented GOP obstruction that has subjected most issues before the Senate to a super majority 60-vote threshold to overcome filibusters, we're still one vote shy of success. One vote.

It’s unconscionable that, once again, unprecedented obstruction is threatening fairness.

ENDA and workplace fairness for all have a clear majority on their side, but every vote is still critical. Thank those already in support for protecting LGBT workers. Tell those who aren't yet on board to say yes to common sense and no to anti-gay extremists.

The time is now – pass ENDA!


Senator Nelson cosponsors ENDA, leaves 3 votes to go, contact your senators now

On the same day that Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will come up for a vote before Thanksgiving, Senator Bill Nelson added his name to the bill.

Let's do a little math.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is ENDA's lead sponsor.

53 currently serving senators, including Senator Nelson (D-FL), have cosponsored ENDA.

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voted for ENDA in committee.

Senator-Elect Cory Booker (D-NJ) will be sworn in this week and is expected to support ENDA.


That's 57 votes that we can reasonably count in favor of ENDA. We only need 60 to cross the filibuster threshold.

3 votes to go!

Every vote will be critical to passage. Thank those already in support for protecting LGBT workers. Tell those who aren't yet on board to say yes to common sense and no to anti-gay extremists.

The time is now – pass ENDA!


McConnell Bobs and Weaves on Judicial Nominations

On the Senate floor this morning, Republican leader Mitch McConnell again showed how utterly without merit his party's obstruction techniques are.

Last week, the Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit, a critically important court that President Obama has been unable to fill vacancies on due to Republican obstruction. There is no reason to prevent the Senate from holding a prompt confirmation vote, especially since the court has four of its eleven active judgeships vacant. Yet Republicans are doing just that, forcing Democrats to file cloture to end the filibuster.

This morning, McConnell took to the floor to complain that Majority Leader Reid was moving too fast, but that he'd be willing to allow a vote on June 4, right after the Memorial Day break. With the Judiciary Committee having fully vetted the nominee and approved of him without a single no vote – and with McConnell admitting on the floor that Republicans plan to support the nominee – it is unclear what would be gained by waiting.

McConnell also complained that a vote for Srinivasan this week would be unfair to Tenth Circuit nominee Greg Phillips. Phillips was nominated seven months after Srinivasan but, unlike the D.C. Circuit nominee, was allowed to have his committee consideration proceed without months of needless delay: Phillips was approved by the committee without opposition last month. So Reid suggested the obvious solution to McConnell's alleged problem: holding Phillips' already-overdue confirmation vote today.

But McConnell objected, thereby preventing the Senate from holding a vote.

It is worth noting that 19 of George W. Bush's circuit court nominees had confirmation votes within a week of committee approval. Thanks to McConnell, that number is zero for Obama, and the Republican leader clearly hopes to keep it that way.


As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, Republicans face a choice: whether to side with the vast majority of Americans who want common sense gun regulation, or with the radical pro-gun fringe.

Today, a group of far-right, NRA-backed Senators are threatening to use the filibuster to shut down the debate on gun safety measures backed by over 90 percent of Americans. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week, Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee pledged to “oppose any legislation” that seeks to expand background checks or crack down on interstate gun trafficking. Joining them in the letter are eleven other Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have rebuked these blind filibuster threats as extreme and unnecessary. Top GOP Senators Lindsey Graham, Tom Coburn, and Johnny Isakson have all called on fellow conservatives to allow a vote on gun safety legislation. On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Senator John McCain joined in questioning the Republicans who have threatened to filibuster gun legislation they haven’t even seen yet:

"I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand,” McCain said.

While some legislators continue to impede progress on this issue, others, such as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and his GOP colleague Senator Pat Toomey have renewed efforts to spearhead a bipartisan agreement on background checks. Yesterday, the two senators announced an agreement on a deal that expands background checks to gun shows and internet purchases.

Meanwhile, President Obama traveled to Connecticut on Monday to remind Americans how important their voice is as the gun debate unfolds. While there, he blasted the efforts by some Senate Republicans to shut down the discussion:

"They’re not just saying they’ll vote no on ideas that almost all Americans support,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter, and that’s not right.”

The obstructionist tactics used by the far-right senators are sadly part of a larger national backlash to discussions about common-sense gun regulations. Last month, Montana's legislature passed a bill that would have forbidden state law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials in enforcing a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines, should such bans ever become law.

Bills in other states seek to outright nullify federal gun laws, including those passed in the Wyoming House and Kentucky Senate. These bills aren’t just terrible for safety, they’re also unconstitutional.

Luckily, there are still those who are willing to stand up to these mindless obstructionist tactics from the right. Late last week, Montana Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the state’s proposed bill, calling it “unnecessary political theater that would not meaningfully protect our Second Amendment rights.”

Other governors have gone a step further in standing up against right-wing intimidation by calling for their state’s gun violence prevention laws to be reinforced. Last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun violence prevention bill. The bill, approved by bipartisan votes in both chambers, adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammunition magazines and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows:

“This is a profoundly emotional day for everyone…when 92% of Americans agree that every gun sale should be subject to a background check, there is no excuse not to make it federal law” Malloy said.

In recent months, legislatures in Colorado , Maryland, and New York have all advanced their own measures to combat gun violence. Collectively these states have demonstrated the courage to stand up to the bullying tactics of the big gun lobby and their allies on the far right. These states have shown the effectiveness of speaking out against the radical agenda coming from right-wing politicians on the state and national level and have sent a message to Washington that action needs to happen.

The last thing our nation needs now is obstructionist tactics leading to watered down, ineffective legislation. We need a meaningful, national response to gun violence in America. But for that to happen, Republicans are going to need to stand up against the radical pro-gun Right, and for common sense.


Six Months Without a Circuit Court Confirmation Vote

Tomorrow, due to Republican obstruction, it will be six months since the Senate has been allowed to vote on a circuit court nomination. Outside of presidential transitions (when new administrations need time to identify potential judges), such long periods of time without an appellate court vote are unusual. They certainly aren't the norm when there are so many exceptionally qualified and noncontroversial pending circuit court nominees, as is the case now.

Currently, there are 20 nominations waiting for a yes-or-no vote, four of them for circuit courts. Not coincidentally, the four that have been blocked the longest are the four circuit court nominees.

Oklahoma's Robert Bacharach is the "newbie" on the list, having been blocked for "only" six months. There is no reason for Republicans to obstruct Bacharach's nomination to the Tenth Circuit: He has the support of Oklahoma's two conservative GOP senators, was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, and received the highest possible rating from the ABA panel that evaluates the qualifications of federal judicial nominees. Back in June, Sen. Coburn said it would be "stupid" for his party to prevent a vote on Bacharach, yet his party voted almost in lockstep to do just that when Democrats filed cloture to end the filibuster.

William Kayatta's nomination to the First Circuit has been blocked even longer. He, too, has the highest qualifications and was approved by the Judiciary with overwhelming bipartisan support (way back in April). He, too, has two Republican home state senators who have been urging their party leader to lift his blockade, but to no effect. As Collins wrote in a letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell the week after Election Day, "the First Circuit bench is small – it has only six active judges – so any single vacancy hits it disproportionately hard. It now has the highest vacancy rate of any Circuit in the country."

No one has been waiting longer than New Jersey's Patty Shwartz, who was approved by the Judiciary Committee in March, more than nine months ago. Like the others, she has received the highest possible rating from the ABA. Like the others, she has the support of both of her home state senators. And like the others, she is finding her nomination blocked by a Republican insistence on blocking all things Obama.

Finally, there is Richard Taranto, whose nomination to the Federal Circuit was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support back in March. Like the others, Taranto, too, has received the highest possible evaluation of his qualifications from the ABA. Republicans have not given any reason to oppose his nomination, yet they have been refusing any effort to actually hold a confirmation vote for him.

America's circuit courts perform a vital function, each one creating precedents that bind all the district courts within their circuits. Every federal district court case can be appealed to the circuit court, but if there aren't enough judges to hear the appeals, the parties are stuck in limbo. In addition, since the Supreme Court hears only a miniscule fraction of the appeals made to it, it is the circuit courts that have the last word on some of the nation's most important and complex legal issues.

The four circuit court nominees have been waiting for a yes-or-no vote longer than anyone else, and this delay serves only to harm the American people. More than 10% of all circuit court judgeships vacant or soon to become vacant. Given this vacancy crisis, and with nominees like these four, it is inexcusable for Senate Republicans to allow half a year to go by without lifting their blockade on circuit court judges.