Speaking on the Senate floor earlier this week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, falsely claimed that right-wing obstructionism of President Obama’s judicial nominees is justified because Democrats were more even more aggressive during the Bush Administration:
Mr. President, I’d like to speak about the Senate’s processing of judicial nominations, and, ah, have to say that forgive me if I’m a bit irritable, but, um, we’ve had a lot of complaints about how fast President Obama’s nominations are going forward, and I think they’re moving rather well. And, I think some people who are now complaining have forgotten how they handled President Bush’s nominees, and in a much more unacceptable fashion. I’d like to emphasize that all of this is not to lay the groundwork to some sort of payback — because I think we all ought to rise up to the challenge of handling nominations properly — but, to set the record straight, because there’s been a lot of misinformation and some of our newer senators don’t really know how things have happened. Allegations of “unprecedented obstruction and delay” have been bandied about, some in the press also, but the reality is that the Democrats systematic obstruction of judicial nominees during the Bush Administration was unprecedented then and it’s unmatched now.
Sessions is right that “there’s been a lot of misinformation” about judicial confirmations, and much of it is coming from him. It Bush era obstructionism truly exceeded Obama era obstructionism, then Bush would have had little success in confirming his judges. In reality, according to the Federal Judicial Center, the Senate had confirmed 77 of Bush’s judges by this point in his Presidency — ten more than the average for the last six president. The Senate has confirmed only slightly more than half as many Obama judges.
By the end of his presidency, nearly 87 percent of Bush’s judicial nominees were confirmed — a higher batting average than any president since Ronald Reagan — so Sessions’ claim that Bush’s judges were held up by unprecedented Democratic obstructionism simply does not survive contact with reality.
Despite the fact that confirmations rates under Bush were above average, and confirmations rates under Obama are dramatically lower than any recent president, Sessions is still not satisfied with his party’s wildly successful campaign of obstructionism. Yesterday, Sessions even claimed that Republicans have “been far too generous with our consent” to the president’s judicial nominees, and he falsely stated that GOP obstructionism has occurred because Obama’s nominees are “not faithful to . . . the law and the Constitution.”
Sessions’ statement that all judges must be faithful to the Constitution would be entirely banal, except for the fact that Republicans appear to have lost their ability to distinguish between the actual Constitution and the GOP party platform. The Republican “Pledge to America” adopts a ludicrous “tenther” theory of the Constitution that endangers Social Security and Medicare. Sessions and his Republican colleagues tore into Justice Kagan because she agrees with ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia that health reform is constitutional and that the government can prevent the sale of military-grade weapons. Sessions’ own nomination to the federal bench was scuttled in 1986 in part because he conducted a tenuous criminal investigation into voting rights advocates that registered African-Americans to vote.
In other words, Republicans have declared that they have the power to declare what the Constitution really means — even when the Constitution’s express language disagrees with them — and to then block any judge who doesn’t align with their radical views.