Sen. Lamar Alexander went to the Senate floor this morning and, unfortunately, gravely mischaracterized his party's three-year massive resistance to processing judicial nominations, which has culminated in Sen. Reid's being forced to file cloture petitions to end the unprecedented filibusters of 17 district court nominations.
So this is a little disagreement that we have here between the Majority and the Republican Leader on the scheduling of votes on district judges.
Like the efforts to portray three years of obstruction as being motivated by recess appointments that would not be made until 2012, this assertion is easily disproven. Since President Obama took office, Republicans have forced "little disagreements" on just about every nomination in the Senate. That is why it takes more than four times longer on average to schedule a floor vote on an Obama district court nominee than it did for George W. Bush's nominees at this point in his presidency.
But more importantly, Sen. Alexander's dismissal of the problem does injustice to the millions of Americans whose access to justice is cut off because there are not enough judges to fill our courtrooms – while, in contrast, a glut of stalled nominees sits on the Senate floor.
Our country's district courts are where the legal battle between individuals and those who would violate their rights is occurring. Every day, Americans turn to our judicial system for justice in cases involving civil rights violations, employment discrimination, dangerously defective consumer goods, predatory lending practices, immigrant rights, consumer fraud, environmental destruction, and a variety of other areas. These courts are vitally important.
Yet because of Republican obstructionism, our nation is experiencing a judicial vacancy crisis worse and more sustained than anything we have seen in over 35 years. Empty courtrooms are not a minor inconvenience cause by a little disagreement on scheduling – they threaten more than 160 million Americans' access to justice.
The empty courtrooms reflect the great damage being done to our constitutional system of justice. They reflect the inability of innocent Americans to have their day in court. And they reflect the sacrifices that the Senate GOP is willing to impose on other people in order to score some political points.