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Updated: 3:32 p.m.
Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” Republicans successfully filibustered their first judge nominated by President Barack Obama on Thursday.
In a 52-43 vote, Democrats fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to beat back a filibuster and bring a matter to a final vote. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted present. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the only Republican to vote for cloture. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the only Democrat to vote for the filibuster.
Just six years ago, Republican leaders tried to do away with judicial filibusters altogether, but on Thursday they used the filibuster weapon that had been honed by Democrats in President George W. Bush’s first term to defeat Goodwin Liu’s nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Many Republicans who have vigorously opposed judicial filibusters in the past voted to block Liu, who had come under sustained attack for more than a year. They argued he has an activist judicial philosophy and lacks courtroom experience. They also complained about his criticism of conservative Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed Liu in a floor speech Thursday. His writings “reveal a left-wing ideologue who views the role of a judge not as that of an impartial arbiter, but as someone who views the bench as a position of power,” McConnell said in prepared remarks.
And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has also voted against earlier filibusters, called Liu a “stellar” and a “genuine great American” but said that’s not enough to qualify him for the court. Coburn said he simply has a fundamental disagreement with Liu about the role of the courts.
Republicans blamed Democrats for creating the precedent of blocking court nominees and said they have only themselves to blame.
“They imposed that change on the Senate,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said, referencing the filibusters of several of Bush’s nominees. Liu exhibited the characteristics of a lawmaker, not a judge, Sessions said.
Democrats defended Liu as a highly qualified nominee with the blessing of the American Bar Association and a distinguished career as a law professor.
And liberal advocacy group People for the American Way sent out a list of quotes from Republicans from 2005 declaring that it was unconstitutional not to allow up-or-down votes on judicial nominees.
In 2005, the bipartisan gang of 14 blocked then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) from invoking the “constitutional option” or “nuclear option,” which would have forced a Senate rules change to bar filibusters of judicial nominees. The agreement in 2005 held that the seven Democrats and seven Republicans in the pact would only filibuster a judicial nominee under “extraordinary circumstances.” After that group established its rules, several nominees whom Democrats had been blocking since 2003 were confirmed.
Just last week, Republicans also successfully blocked Obama’s nominee for deputy Attorney General, James Cole.