An issue senators can agree on is … judges?

Five judges confirmed this week received at least 79 yea votes

Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right,, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee markup on July 30, 2020. Some  confirmations of judges to U.S. District Courts have gleaned bipartisan support.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right,, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee markup on July 30, 2020. Some confirmations of judges to U.S. District Courts have gleaned bipartisan support. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 11, 2020 at 12:22pm

It’s all tribal in the Senate on almost every issue these days except, it seems, when it comes to confirming U.S. District Court judges.

Five judges were confirmed on overwhelmingly bipartisan votes to district court benches in states that have at least one Democratic senator. All those senators voted in favor of each of the judges confirmed this week. The lowest vote total any of them received was 79 votes.

That cooperation may continue next week. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell teed up another eight district court judges for confirmation to benches in California and Illinois.

Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., President Donald Trump, McConnell and others have touted their ability to fill up the court with conservative judges by putting a focus on leaving no vacancy behind. But some of those judges have gotten the sign-off from Democrats, and several were initially nominated by a Democratic president.

Over a quarter of the Senate’s 168 votes this year have been on judges. However, all but a few votes on district court judges got at least some level of bipartisan support.

There are currently 68 vacancies in U.S. District Courts and 44 pending nominees, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. But many of those vacancies are in states that have at least one Democratic senator. With zero vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Republicans have worked with Democrats to fill some of those seats to keep the confirmation train running.

Home-state senators don’t get much of a say on circuit court nominees any more, but still get input on the district level. Graham has said he continues to honor blue slips — small blue-tinted questionnaires sent to home-state senators who are asked to check “approve” or “oppose” — for judges on the district level.

Senators confirmed Diane Gujarati for the Eastern District of New York, Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia, Hala Y. Jarbou for the Western District of Michigan, Christy Criswell Wiegand for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Brett H. Ludwig for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Wiegand was praised in a joint statement from Pennsylvania's senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey.

Casey said she has the “intellect, experience and integrity to faithfully and independently administer justice for the people of the Commonwealth.”

The senators hailing from the Keystone State have been able to get 29 district court judges to the bench since 2011. Only New York and Texas have had more in that time, the release said.

Waiting since Obama

As majority leader in 2015 and 2016, McConnell helped maximize judicial vacancies for Trump by slowing the number of judicial confirmations to a trickle toward the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

One of those Obama-era nominees, Gujarati, was confirmed this week on a 99-0 vote to a judgeship in the Eastern District of New York.

Gujarati was first nominated by Obama in 2016, and renominated by Trump in 2018.

New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand praised her confirmation after nearly four years of waiting.

“I was honored to recommend Ms. Gujarati and I applaud her confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, where I know she will distinguish herself through her continued service to New Yorkers,” she said.

While states with Democratic senators are getting some suitable picks, they did have to wait for them.

The median number of days from nomination to confirmation for District Court judges overall is 238 days, said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. States with two Republicans only waited 213 days, while states with split delegations had to wait 289 days and states with two Democrats waited 383 days.