For almost a year now, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has been one of the most intransigent obstructionists on judicial nominations. Until recently, he has categorically voted down every single nominee to the federal courts, a tactic he said was in retaliation for President Obama’s recess appointments of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and two others to the National Labor Relations Board.
In his crusade, Lee has voted against even those nominees he supported, and since at least April, without a single ally left. Now, just as President Obama is ramping up his push to fill federal court vacancies during his second term, Lee says he’s backing down:
Lee says the Republicans have adequately responded by invoking a loosely defined Senate tradition of backing off from filling circuit court seats in the waning months of a president’s term, dubbed the “Thurmond Rule.” That rule was invoked in July.
“That issue is closed,” spokesman Brian Phillips said. However, should the president again make recess appointments, Lee could again institute his policy, Phillips said.
Of course, President Obama used his recess appointment power because this same sort of obstruction left vacant key positions in administrative agencies. Republicans who opposed Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, admitted he was a qualified nominee, but held his nomination hostage in a campaign to eviscerate the CFPB’s structure.
And now, in a perverse turn of events, Mike Lee is joining some of his colleagues in threatening a “strong and proportional response” — ostensibly even more obstruction — if the Senate adopts a filibuster reform proposal intended to curb obstruction.
If Lee does stand by his change of heart at least with regard to judicial nominees, he will have removed one of many obstacles to ending the judicial vacancy crisis. But to reverse the trend during Obama’s first term of having confirmed less judicial nominees than any president since Kennedy, obstructionists will have to go one step further and enable Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to actually schedule yes-or-no votes in the first place.