ABA Expresses “Grave Concern” Over Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

Last week, Senate Republican leaders sharply escalated their obstruction of judicial nominees, saying they will block all votes on all circuit court nominations until after the election. Yesterday, Bill Robinson, the president of the nonpartisan American Bar Association, condemned this decision in no uncertain terms in a letter to Senate Democratic and Republican leaders.

Amid concerns that the judicial confirmation process is about to fall victim to presidential election year politics through the invocation of the "Thurmond Rule," I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to reiterate our grave concern for the longstanding number of judicial vacancies on Article III courts and to urge you to schedule floor votes on three pending, noncontroversial circuit court nominees before July and on district court nominees who have strong bipartisan support on a weekly basis thereafter.

Robinson specifically mentioned several of the circuit court nominees who have been needlessly caught up in this trap, including William Kayatta of Maine (to the First Circuit), Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma (to the Tenth Circuit), and Richard Taranto (to the Federal Circuit). Republicans have no legitimate basis to block a vote on them.

[They] are consensus nominees who have received overwhelming approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. [Kayatta and Bacharach] have the staunch support of their Republican senators. Richard Taranto, nominated to the Federal Circuit, enjoys strong bipartisan support, including the endorsement of noted conservative legal scholars. All three nominees also have stellar professional qualifications and each has been rated unanimously "well-qualified" by the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Although not specifically mentioned in the letter, it is also important to schedule a vote on Patty Shwartz, a highly qualified mainstream nominee for the Second Circuit from New Jersey who has the bipartisan support of her Democratic home-state senators and her Republican governor, Chris Christie.

As for the so-called "Thurmond Rule" that Mitch McConnell falsely claims calls for the Senate to simply stop voting on any and all circuit court nominees, the ABA president writes:

As you know, the "Thurmond Rule" is neither a rule nor a clearly defined event. … With regard to the past three election years, the last circuit court nominees were confirmed in June during 2004 and 2008 and in July during 2000. In deference to these historical cut-off dates and because of our conviction that the Senate has a continuing constitutional duty to act with due diligence to reduce the dangerously high vacancy rate that is adversely affecting our federal judiciary, we exhort you to schedule votes on these three outstanding circuit court nominees this month.

Every American deserves their day in court. The American people know it. The American Bar Association knows it. If only Senate Republicans agreed.

PFAW