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Slow-Walking the Nominations Process in Committee

The Judiciary Committee reported three nominees to the Senate floor at its Executive Meeting Thursday morning.  Committee votes on Richard Taranto to fill an appellate seat on the Federal Circuit and Robin Rosenbaum to fill a seat in the Southern District of Florida were supposed to be taken on March 15.  However, due to the failure of sufficient committee members to appear on that day (seven of the Democratic committee members were present, but Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was the only Republican to appear), the Committee was two members short of the quorum required to do business. 

While they were still waiting to see if more members would show up, Senator Grassley noted that if a quorum was established he would be requesting that consideration of Taranto and Rosenbaum be delayed for a weekChairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) noted that he and Senator Grassley had discussed establishing a process whereby business meetings held for the sole purpose of invoking the extension of consideration of nominees could take place without a quorum, but that other Republican members of the Committee had objected.  

Before recessing the meeting where no business had been able to take place, Senator Leahy stated, “The Republicans requested this meeting, even though it would be a pro forma type of thing.  They seem to be boycotting the meeting.” 

The same thing happened at the regularly scheduled business meeting of the Judiciary Committee the following week, March 22, when Taranto, Rosenbaum, and Gershwin Drain, nominee to the District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan, were scheduled to be considered.  Eight of the Democratic Committee members sat and waited; they were two members short of a quorum.  Twenty-six minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin, Senator Grassley arrived, but no other Republican members came.  

When Senator Leahy again noted that it appeared that the Republican members were boycotting the committee, Senator Grassley responded that he was not aware of a boycott attempt, but acknowledged that it would be unlikely that any other member of his caucus would appear and allow the committee to conduct its business.  Senator Leahy recessed the committee after stating that he would convene it later that afternoon off of the Senate floor when a series of votes were scheduled to take place.  That meeting did occur, and the Republican committee members invoked the automatic week’s extension, with the result that no action to move the nominations process forward occurred.

A quorum did appear on March 29.  Taranto and Rosenbaum were reported out of Committee on voice votes with only Senator Lee opposing them.  A roll call vote was held on Drain, resulting in a party-line vote of 10-8.  Five other listed nominees – one to a Circuit Court seat and four to District Court seats – were held over.  Since the Senate is leaving on recess after this week, these five judges – William Kayatta, Jr. to the First Circuit, John Fowlkes, Jr. to the Western District of Tennessee, and Kevin McNulty and Michael Shipp to the District of New Jersey – will not receive consideration by the Committee to be advanced to the Senate floor for confirmation until April 19 at the earliest.

In addition to many other tactics to delay, slow-walk, and obstruct the nominations process – tactics that range from refusing to review background materials in a timely manner, to failing to return blue slips, and to filibustering consensus nominees – Republicans in the Senate are also shirking their Constitutional duty to advise and consent by refusing to show up and let the Committee conduct its business.  While they are playing the politics of obstruction, justice for millions of ordinary people is being delayed and denied due to a judicial vacancy crisis that has 1 in 10 seats on the federal bench empty.  For each day that the nominations process is stalled in the Senate, Americans across the country are prevented from having their day in court.

For the most comprehensive, up-to-date information on judicial nominations, visit the Judicial Selection Project website.