Senate Republicans May Stop Playing Nice on Judicial Nominees, But Not Yet

Posted April 10, 2008 at 11:18am

Senate Republicans on Thursday morning conceded they have yet to follow through on rhetorical threats to hold up Democratic-backed legislation if the majority doesn’t start allowing votes on President Bush’s outstanding judicial nominees.

But they warned that their friendly posture may not endure indefinitely.

“Believe it or not, we really did decide to try to be reasonable and fair,” said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.). “We’ve tried not to be belligerent, to in effect, try to do it the nice way.”

Yet Republicans offered little more insight into how they would force the Democrats to bring up dozens of outstanding federal court appointees, the approval of which they argued was at a virtual standstill.

The GOP Senators, led by top Judiciary Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), said there had been discussions about holding hostage an already controversial patent-reform bill, but even they conceded the measure could be a problematic tool since it has its own share of critics.

Patent reform aside, the Republican Senators would need all GOP Senators to climb aboard their cause in order to trip up Senate business, a move that has yet to occur.

Republicans have been balking at the pace of judicial nominations for months, and have been increasing their threats in recent weeks.

Asked what it’s going to take to get Republicans to put words into action, Specter said: “The Caucus is going to have to make a decision.”

Judicial nominations are a near constant point of debate in the Senate, which is charged with confirming presidential appointees to the courts. The issue often becomes ripe in an election year among Republicans since it is a critical issue to the party’s conservative base.

As timing would have it, the Senate is scheduled to approve five outstanding judicial nominations later Thursday, including one lifetime federal appellate court hopeful.

Senators have yet to install any circuit court nominees this year, and are far behind the average of 15 nominations approved by the Senate in the final two years of an opposing party’s president’s term.

The Senate has advanced six appellate nominations so far this Congress.

Republicans said Thursday that while their concerns are wide-ranging, they are most upset about vacancies on the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. They argued that with 19 so-called judicial emergencies and nine openings on the appellate courts, the Senate cannot stall any longer.

The GOP Senators also issued veiled threats to make approval of nominations difficult under a prospective Democratic president next year.

“If we have a Democratic president, you can count on more of the same. The tit for tat is only going to get worse,” Specter said.