This afternoon, Senate Republicans started to make good on their threats to “shut down the Senate” if their Democratic colleagues don’t speed up the confirmation of President Bush’s pending circuit court nominees. According to The Hill, “Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected on the Senate floor to Reid’s efforts to speed debate on climate change by forcing the clerk to read a 500-page substitute amendment.”
Talk about a "scorched earth" policy! This latest ploy shows that GOP senators will stop at nothing to ensure a complete conservative takeover of the federal judiciary.
In a statement, Sen. McConnell said “the Democratic majority has refused to honor its commitments…and [their] that actions…have consequences.” He went on to say, “it is important that judicial emergencies are filled with qualified judges, and we will use the various tools at our disposal to ensure that those nominees and the Republican Conference are treated fairly, and that the majority takes its commitments seriously.”
But as we pointed out in yesterday’s entry, all three of the nominees that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) attempted to process would have filled seats which have been deemed “judicial emergencies”. Of the three Sen. McConnell prefers, only one – that to which Robert Conrad is nominated, which has been vacant since 1994 due to Republican obstructionist during the Clinton administration – received that distinction.
Sen. McConnell also seems to be unfazed by the fact that Sen. Leahy announced publicly yesterday that he intended to schedule committee votes for both pending Sixth Circuit nominees at the Judiciary Committee's next executive business meeting - which is scheduled for June 12. Their confirmations would raise the number of circuit court judges confirmed during this Congress to ten.
It is important that the public sees through this latest partisan attempt to start an election-year row over judges. Vacancies in the federal judiciary are at a historic low, and Senators Reid and Leahy have consistently showed a willingness to work with the White House in consultation over consensus nominees.
It is the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to ensure a fair and independent judiciary by thoroughly examining each nominee’s record. Senate Democrats should not be forced to abandon that responsibility by their Republican colleagues looking to hold the Senate hostage to advance a political agenda.