Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy is asking Republicans to help move through a backlog of judicial nominees, saying its reached historically high levels.
“You’ve got good men and women who are willing to serve. Let them do that,” he said.
Leahy said he anticipates pushing judges through to the floor without further hearings if they already had a hearing in the 111th Congress, particularly those nominees who passed the committee on unanimous votes but were then blocked on the floor.
A senior Senate aide said Leahy hopes to avoid long delays for noncontroversial nominees such as Albert Diaz of North Carolina, who had the support of home-state Republican Senators and yet spent nearly a year waiting for a vote.
Both parties have been frustrated with the process when a president from their party is in the White House. When Republicans controlled the Senate, they threatened to eliminate filibusters for judicial nominees when Democrats blocked confirmation votes for some circuit court judges, a threat Democrats ripped as the “nuclear option.” Now Democrats are examining ways to tighten filibuster rules and eliminate secret holds that allow Senators to block nominations anonymously.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have set up a bipartisan working group intended to streamline the Senate’s process of confirming executive nominations. Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) head the group, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also participating.
“A number of us have tried it before and failed,” Alexander said in a brief interview last week. “I made a speech last year called ‘Innocent Until Nominated’ trying to do something about all the maze of conflicting forms that you have to fill out. … You come up for a hearing, you make a mistake and suddenly you’re called a criminal.”
Members of both parties also agree that there are probably too many executive positions requiring Senate approval, Alexander said.
“I’m not sure it’s worth the Senate’s time to confirm the public relations officer for a department,” he said.