With less than four and a half months until Election Day, Senate Republicans are shutting off the bipartisan spigot when it comes to confirming President Barack Obama’s nominees to the nation’s top courts and will present a unified front against his circuit court picks through November.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) made the decision to blockade nominations official Wednesday when he informed his colleagues that he would invoke the “Thurmond Rule” from now until after the elections.
Named after the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) — and alternately called the “Leahy Rule” by some Republicans after Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the doctrine holds that within six months of a presidential election, the opposition party can, and typically does, refuse to allow votes on circuit court judges.
Republican sources said the GOP will impose its blockade on circuit court judges now but that district court nominees will likely continue to be confirmed until at least early September, when cooperation on lower court picks has traditionally ended.
According to GOP lawmakers, McConnell, Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and other top leaders discussed imposing the Thurmond Rule during Wednesday’s weekly Steering Committee luncheon for conservatives.
Grassley said he told his colleagues that “we ought to be instituting the Leahy-Thurmond rule right now,” arguing that Republicans have shown Obama the same deference on circuit court judges as Democrats showed former President George W. Bush.
“By this time, nobody can say it’s not fair to this president based on the number of nominations we’ve put up,” Grassley said.
McConnell’s decision was welcomed by his GOP colleagues.
“We’re in that window [of time] now,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. He added, “I think it’s about time, and it’s something we ought to do.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) agreed, saying, “I think this is about the time. This is traditionally when the curtain comes down on circuit court judges.” Cornyn, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Obama shouldn’t be overly concerned because “if he’s elected [again], it means only a few months delay anyway.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee, said the invocation of the Thurmond Rule was only a matter of time. Hatch noted that “it’s always been used,” since Thurmond first blocked the nomination of Justice Abe Fortas to Chief Justice of the United States in 1968.