Federal Courts and Nominations

Just One Judicial Confirmation So Far In 2015, Senator McConnell?

Washington, DC –  The day after the 2014 elections, when Republicans regained a majority in the U.S. Senate, then-incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a press conference in Louisville, KY. McConnell said of his relationship with President Obama, “We ought to start with the view that maybe there are some things we can agree on to make progress for the country.” McConnell continued by setting a benchmark for his tenure as Majority Leader. “From an institutional point of view,” he said, “the Senate needs to be fixed…. The Senate for the past couple years basically doesn’t do anything. We don’t even vote…. The first thing that I need to do is get the Senate back to normal.” 

 

But since the new Senate was sworn into office in January, not a single judicial nominee has received a floor vote. The first floor vote on a judicial nominee is expected to occur later today – just one floor vote on a judicial nominee in almost three and a half months since McConnell became Majority Leader.

 

Judith E. Schaeffer, Vice President of Constitutional Accountability Center, said, “So far, at least when it comes to judicial nominations, Senator McConnell has flunked the test of leadership he laid out for himself last November. Failing until today to hold a floor vote on a single judicial nominee is not ‘getting the Senate back to normal.’ It’s driving it into dysfunction, especially after the Senate confirmed 89 judicial nominees last year under Senator Harry Reid’s leadership.”

 

Currently, there are five judicial nominees who are awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, each nominated more than 200 days ago. Another 13 are still stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee – several of whom have been waiting more than 150 days for a hearing – including nominees to fill seats that have been officially declared “judicial emergencies.” None of these nominations is controversial, yet the inability of the Senate to do its job exacerbates the strain on our federal courts to administer justice. As the Wall Street Journal reported just last week: 

 

More than 330,000 [civil] cases were pending as of last October—a record—up nearly 20% since 2004, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The number of cases awaiting resolution for three years or more exceeded 30,000 for the fifth time in the past decade…. But only Congress can create new judge positions or move them from slower-growing regions to faster-growing ones, and efforts to do so have run into political resistance. The nomination and Senate approval of federal judges, meanwhile, has become so politicized that some vacancies go unfilled for a year or more.

 

CAC’s Schaeffer concluded, “Majority Leader McConnell and Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, need to oil the judicial confirmation machinery they’ve allowed to rust over since they’ve taken control, and get the gears of justice moving efficiently again.”

 

Resources:

 

“Mitch McConnell: ‘The First Thing I Need to Do Is Get the Senate Back to Normal’,” National Journal, November 5, 2014: http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/mitch-mcconnell-the-first-thing-i-need-to-do-is-get-the-senate-back-to-normal-20141105 

 

“In Federal Courts, the Civil Cases Pile Up,” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2015: http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-federal-courts-civil-cases-pile-up-1428343746

 

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Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history.

 

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