Even for the most dedicated political nerd, the twists and turns of Senate process can be opaque. When is a failed cloture petition a filibuster? Who objected to the unanimous consent request? Why did everyone agree to two hours of debate when they’re just going to fill them up with quorum calls? And don’t get me started on secret holds.
In contrast, Utah Senator Mike Lee has forthrightly owned up to his recent decision to block all judicial and executive branch nominations. Senator Lee said, flat-out, last week, “I find myself duty-bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations.” (Senator Lee made clear that this blockade is in protest of President Obama’s recess appointments of Richard Cordray and three NLRB commissioners).
Unfortunately, the action that Senator Lee is helpfully owning up to is one of devastating scope and wide-ranging impact. There are an awful lot of “additional nominations” that have yet to be considered and approved. For judicial nominations alone, there are 18 judicial nominees waiting for Senate action – including David Nuffer, a nominee to a district court in Senator Lee’s home state of Utah, where the court is so overburdened that the vacancy has been deemed a “judicial emergency.” There are also 21 judicial nominees left over from 2011 who did not get through the Senate Judiciary Committee process in time, AND as of now, three new 2012 judicial nominees. When you add them all up, it’s becoming apparent that Senator Lee is single-handedly manufacturing a one-man shutdown of the court system. And that’s not even counting the 70-plus nominees to federal agencies and boards whose consideration Senator Lee is also resisting.
Majority Leader Reid can take the limited time of the Senate to deal with cloture petitions, and the multiple votes that they may require, to move these nominees. However, repeated cloture petitions take time away from other essential Senate business – and, incidentally, should be completely unnecessary when a significant number of the pending nominees, like David Nuffer, were unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary committee. So what’s so frustrating for all Americans who care about the country’s priorities, and include justice among them, is that courtrooms around the country continue to sit empty, civil cases continue to drag on, and litigants with legal disputes continue to live with uncertainty. Knowing that Senator Lee, rather than some anonymous objecting Senator, is the latest cause of that delay is cold comfort indeed.