Republicans Pledge Floor Fight Over Judicial Nominees

Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:58pm

Senate Judiciary Republicans threatened Thursday to block President Barack Obama’s nominees for lower courts from clearing the full chamber, and panel Democrats accused them of making unwarranted objections.

“Republicans will not stand quietly by and allow the rule of law in America to be historically altered by a federal judiciary that is agenda-oriented,” Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said during a committee markup. “If anything, we have been far too generous with our consent.”

The pace of judicial confirmations has been a hot topic for both parties. Democrats blame Republicans for slow-walking the nominees, while GOPers assail their majority colleagues for perpetrating worse acts during President George W. Bush’s tenure. Thursday’s markup, which included nominations that the Obama administration recently returned to the Senate because they stalled on the chamber floor, provided fresh fodder for the debate.

Several of the stalled nominations were approved Thursday along mostly partisan lines, including John McConnell to serve as a district judge in Rhode Island. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had tried unsuccessfully to get action in August on his home state pick, and he blasted Republicans on Thursday for previously blocking the nomination.

He warned that similar stalling tactics could be exercised in the future if Republicans win the majority. “We are on a track right now to destroy a tradition of Senatorial courtesy to the Senators of the home state,” Whitehouse said, according to the Associated Press.

He added: “Erecting a blockade for a district court nominee is a new threshold we will cross. Once that tiger is let out of a cage, it will never get back in.”

Republicans used Thursday’s markup to accuse Obama of nominating activist judges. Sessions foreshadowed that charge Tuesday, when he took to the floor and blasted Democrats for thwarting scores of Bush nominees. “Democrats’ systematic obstruction of judicial nominees during the Bush administration was unprecedented then, and it is unmatched now,” he said.

Other stalled nominations approved Thursday included Edward Chen, nominated to be a judge for the northern district of California; Louis Butler, nominated to the western district of Wisconsin; and Goodwin Liu to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Republicans have been particularly concerned about Liu’s nomination, accusing him of having liberal legal leanings. Thursday’s vote on Liu was 12-7.