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President Barack Obama’s re-election last week has exposed an internal rift among Republican senators over whether to clear the way for confirmation votes on long-stalled judicial nominations during the lame-duck session or delay them until the next Congress.
Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a prominent Republican on the Judiciary Committee, predicted Wednesday that none of Obama’s 19 judicial nominees awaiting Senate floor action will be confirmed before year’s end. If they are not confirmed, the president must renominate them next year.
“That’s not going to happen in the lame-duck,” Hatch said in an interview. “That will have to wait until next year.”
Hatch’s position, however, is not shared by all his Republican colleagues. The list of stalled nominees includes several who have the strong backing of their home-state Republican senators. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, for example, are pressing for confirmation votes in the post-election session.
Republican leaders have blocked all judicial confirmations since September, citing a loose Senate custom of not approving a president’s judicial nominees in what could be the final months of an administration.
“Now that the elections are behind us, I write to urge you to move forward expeditiously to schedule votes on non-controversial judicial nominees who have bipartisan support,” Collins wrote a letter sent Tuesday to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Most of the stalled nominees, including 15 appointees to federal trial courts and four to appeals courts, received bipartisan backing from the Judiciary Committee.
Collins singled out for swift confirmation William J. Kayatta Jr., a nominee for the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals whose confirmation is also supported by Maine’s other Republican senator, Olympia J. Snowe.
“The 1st Circuit bench is small — it only has six active judges— so any single vacancy hits it disproportionately hard. It now has the highest vacancy rate of any circuit in the country,” Collins said. “Bill has a stellar record, the highest [American Bar Association] rating, the full support of Maine’s Republican Senate delegation, and was reported by the Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan voice vote. There should be no reason to delay a Senate vote on his nomination any further.”