Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first judicial confirmation hearing of the 110th Congress, and the event spurred conversation about nominations on both sides of the aisle. The Committee’s new chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), touted its fast pace on confirmations thus far—five district court nominees were reported out of committee and confirmed in the last two weeks, and three had hearings yesterday. And Leahy promised to continue to expedite the confirmation process for consensus nominees. He also called on the president to “nominate men and women to the federal bench who reflect the diversity of America.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) used a one-day retreat for GOP senators as an opportunity to discuss judicial nominations, declaring that confirmation of the president’s nominees is one of the Republicans’ “top priorities” in the new Congress. McConnell challenged the Democratic-led Judiciary Committee to confirm 17 circuit court nominees in the next two years—the average number of confirmations during the last two years of the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations. That would be one better than the number of circuit court judges confirmed in the last (Republican controlled) Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is optimistic that “that standard will be met,” but Senator Leahy pointed out that it is difficult to confirm judges without having nominees—of the 25 vacancies deemed judicial emergencies, 17 of those slots are still awaiting a nomination from the president.
McConnell and Leahy seem to agree that nominees should be quickly confirmed, putting judges on the bench and “improv[ing] the administration of justice in our nation’s federal courts.” But in all of their abstractions, neither senator divulged what kind of qualifications nominees should possess in order to be confirmed. We can only hope that in their attempts to avoid the “obstructionist” label, all of the senators keep in mind their duty to diligently advise and consent on nominations. After all, quickly confirming an unqualified and/or blatantly partisan judge surely does nothing to “improve the administration of justice.”