Senate Democrats Demand Action on Judicial Nominees

Posted July 29, 2010 at 1:42pm

A group of Senate Democrats is making a late push to clear a group of judicial nominees before the August break.

Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and others bemoaned the slow-moving confirmation process in the Senate and ticked off the names of judicial nominees hailing from their home states who are awaiting consideration on the floor.

“For the sake of judicial efficiency and ensuring fair access for all of our people to our courts, I think it’s time to move ahead on outstanding nominees that have cleared the Judiciary Committee easily,” said Bennet, who called for the confirmation of Bill Martinez, a district court nominee from Colorado whose name has lingered on the Senate calendar since April.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) sought consent to clear a handful of judiciary nominations, but was denied by Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who said President Barack Obama’s picks were moving at a reasonable pace.

“We have to ask ourselves how fast should you move a nominee on the floor,” Sessions said, complaining that Democrats slow-walked President George W. Bush’s nominees.

Udall, who rallied Democratic colleagues to the floor, called it “a shame, and I am not going to give up.”

Sessions also mentioned Obama’s July Fourth recess appointment of Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That move enraged Republicans and last week prompted Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to offer a sense of the Senate resolution declaring that the recess appointment “constitutes an abuse of power by the President.”

The Democrats’ latest push on judicial nominees comes just days before the Senate considers the nomination of Elena Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court. While Obama’s second pick for the high court is all but assured of confirmation next week, the outlook for the more than 70 other pending nominees is unclear.

One nominee who appears at risk is John McConnell, tapped to serve on the district court of Rhode Island. The trial attorney is a major Democratic campaign donor who gave $50,000 to Obama’s inaugural committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Whitehouse defended the nomination at a confirmation hearing last month, complimenting McConnell for “legal expertise, strong character, and a proper understanding of the judicial role.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell in the past have agreed to clear a host of names before breaking for a Congressional recess. Aides said talks between the leaders were in the early stages and that no action is guaranteed before the Senate’s scheduled adjournment for the summer at the end of next week.