Despite their efforts just four years ago to eradicate the judicial filibuster altogether, Senate Republicans are now preemptively threatening to use procedural blocks to stop any judicial nominees they don’t approve. In a letter yesterday to President Obama and Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Senate’s Republican Caucus wrote “if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee.”
While this 180-degree turn is troubling, it is certainly not surprising. For years, Alliance for Justice has argued that Republicans in the Senate aren’t concerned with the quality of the judges put forward, or even the manner in which they are confirmed. They want to keep appointing judges to the federal bench who will rule based on their political agenda, rather than the Constitution and the law.
During the years that President Bush enjoyed a Republican majority, Senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), claimed that the Constitution gave the president absolute authority to appoint judges, and that the Senate’s “advice and consent” role was limited to a simple up-or-down vote. In fact, Sen. Hatch referred to Democratic opposition to the president’s nominees as “self-serving partisan obstruction” and Sen. Grassley demanded that “all judges receive a fair vote on the Senate floor.”
Now that these Senators find themselves in the minority, they’re demanding a much more active role in the judicial nomination process, threatening to use the same tools they previously denounced if they don’t get their way.
Just four years ago, Sen. Hatch said “the Senate’s task…is to advise and to query on the judiciousness and character of nominees, not to challenge, by our naked power, the people’s will in electing who shall nominate.” In the last paragraph of yesterday’s letter, however, the Senate’s Republican Caucus wrote, “because of the profound impact that life-tenured federal judges can have in our society, the Founders made their appointment a shared constitutional responsibility.” How quickly they change their tune.
President Obama should put forward highly qualified appointees drawn from a rich pool that includes not only federal and state judges but also state attorneys general, law professors, public interest legal experts, and elected officials with practical legal experience. We need federal judges who will rule based on respect for the Constitutional values of equal justice under the law, not a partisan political agenda.