From the moment President Obama took office, Senate Republicans waged a campaign of delay and obstruction against his judicial nominees. Indeed, the problem became so bad that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts felt the need to speak out about the urgent vacancy crisis this campaign created. So it is very unfortunate that a key Senate committee recently decided to roll back the pace of confirmation hearings:
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to slow down nomination hearings to give time to confirm pending nominees.
There are currently 23 nominees awaiting final votes in the Senate. Some, as in the case of Caitlin Halligan of Washington, D.C., have been waiting more than 400 days for a vote.
The committee on Nov. 16 met and decided to slow down the nomination hearings.
As a practical matter, this development is unlikely to slow the confirmations process more than its current snail’s pace. Because the Judiciary Committee operates under the radical assumptions that 1) a majority of the committee should get to actually approve a nominee; and 2) the minority should not be allowed to delay votes indefinitely, this Committee has actually managed to clear nominees at a reasonable pace.
The same cannot be said, however, for the Senate floor. There, of course, it takes 60 votes to get nearly anything done — but it really takes all 100 votes to get anything done quickly. That’s because the Senate’s broken rules allow dissenting senators to impose crippling delays on the body as a whole any time the majority tries to advance something that anyone at all objects to. As a result, President Obama’s nominees consistently clear the committee. And then wait. And wait. And wait.
So the Judiciary Committee’s decision to slow down hearings really just brings one of the Senate’s still functioning arms in line with it’s completely broken floor process. Nevertheless, it is an unfortunate development. By generating a backlog of nominees awaiting confirmation, the committee could at least hope to embarrass obstructionists into action. Now, they won’t even have that lever at their disposal anymore.