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Going 'Nuclear'? Democrats Ratchet Up Talk on Judicial Picks

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Schumer, left, said the effort to fill the appeals court should be on the radar of progressive groups.

Since the Halligan fight, liberal groups have grown even more vocal about the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, with some also criticizing Obama for not acting more swiftly to send nominations up to the Hill. Judiciary Committee Republicans make the same point.

“Somehow confirming 178 judges and declining to confirm two in the President’s first term constitutes obstruction. No matter how hard you try, you can’t spin the fact that out of the 87 judicial vacancies in the federal courts, 62 of them don’t have nominees,” Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

Reid’s April 5 comments on Nevada public radio may have been an opening salvo intended to get Republicans to allow more high-level judicial nominations through or face the risk of seeing the majority leader move unilaterally to change the Senate’s rules with a simple majority.

“If the Republicans in the Senate don’t start approving some judges and don’t start helping get some of these nominations done, then we’re going to have to take more action,” Reid said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday also slammed the continuing delays and obstruction of the president’s judicial nominees, but he stopped short of endorsing Reid’s implied threat to use the nuclear option against judicial filibusters.

Carney said there has been a consistent pattern of judicial nominees being blocked for months at a time, although he noted that there has been some improvement so far this year.

“We share Sen. Reid’s frustration, and we hope that the Senate continues to improve,” he said.

The Washington Post reported last week that Obama has made personal appeals for his judicial nominees in recent meetings with Senate Republicans. Before Reid’s remarks, senators had already reached agreement on a Tuesday afternoon confirmation vote for Patty Shwartz to a seat on the Philadelphia-based federal appeals court, but the next real test may come over Principal Deputy Solicitor General Srikanth Srinivasan’s nomination to a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court to which Halligan was nominated. Obama remains the only president to serve a full four-year term without successfully nominating a judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing Wednesday for Srinivasan. Advocates have been touting Srinivasan’s bipartisan support from, among others, former solicitors general and Supreme Court clerks.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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