The one silver lining in this arrangement was that the Senate continued to confirm district court judges, the lowest rank of federal judge who enjoys lifetime tenure. Now, however, even the slow trickle of new district court confirmations appears to be on the brink of shutting down. Earlier today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked an effort to confirm 17 district judges, 14 of whom cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee via voice vote — a process normally limited to the most uncontroversial nominees. McConnell instead floated the possibility that the senate might confirm just two more nominees at some point in the future.
As Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) explained, this kind of obstruction is nothing new. According to Reid, two-thirds of the trial judges that were actually confirmed this year were nonetheless subject to a filibuster:
Historically the Senate has considered district court nominees as late as October in presidential election years. In the past five presidential election years, Democrats have never blocked a district court nominee from receiving a vote on the Senate floor. Never. But our Republican colleagues are setting new standards for obstruction. Not only in all the legislation, but in judges. Of the 28 district court nominees we’ve considered this year, I’ve filed cloture nineteen times. In other words, we’ve had to break a Republican filibuster on 67 percent of the district judges we’ve considered and confirmed. President Obama’s district court nominees have been forced to wait 300 percent more than President Bush’s nominees. Three times more.
In January, when newly-elected senators take their seats, a brief window will open up that will enable Reid to abolish or reform the filibuster with a simple majority vote. If he remains Majority Leader when that happens, it will be his best opportunity to end this kind of obstructionism forever.