Judicial Nominations Back on Senate Floor

, Legal Times

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Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)

Correction: An earlier version of this article said judicial nominations could require a 30-hour waiting period before a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate. Nominations for circuit courts could be required to wait up to 30 hours. District court nominations, however, could require up to a two-hour waiting period.

Senate Democrats have started a push to get confirmation votes for stalled judicial nominees this year, but Republicans made it clear they won’t make it easy for President Barack Obama's picks for the bench.

Democrats and Republicans aired a disagreement on the Senate floor Wednesday that had so far this year only simmered behind the scenes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for the first time sought quick votes on four district court nominees, all of whom are noncontroversial and were first nominated more than six months ago.

But Republicans objected to the once common move, still upset that Democrats changed Senate rules last year to strip the minority party of the ability to block judicial and executive branch nominees.

Democrats can use the new rules to overcome Republicans’ block tactics, as the majority party successfully did with three nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Without unanimous consent—common for district court nominees as recently as a year ago—Reid will have to find floor time to go through procedural steps to get each nominee a confirmation vote.

There are 32 circuit and district court nominees—approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee—who are waiting for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. Each circuit court nomination could require up to a 30-hour waiting period before the confirmation vote, a scenario that played out in December for the three D.C. Circuit nominees. District court nominations could require up to a two-hour waiting period.

Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on the floor Wednesday that the Senate could go back to a cooperative process if Reid undoes the filibuster rule change, dubbed the “nuclear option.”

"Now the majority leader would like to short-circuit the process which was put in place as a result of the nuclear option and seek to get confirmation of these judicial nominees by unanimous consent," Cornyn said. "My hope would be that the majority leader would choose to reverse the partisan rules change so we can go back to the bipartisan cooperative process which resulted in more than 200 Obama judges being confirmed."

So far this year, the Senate has confirmed only one judge—Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit—and that was only because his nomination was a procedural holdover from last year’s fights over the Obama administration’s picks for the federal courts.

On Wednesday, Reid filed cloture to start the procedure for four nominees: Jeffrey Meyer for the District of Connecticut; James Moody Jr.  for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and James Donato and Beth Freeman for the Northern District of California.

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