In a move that should outrage even the hardest-hearted cynic, yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow votes on 17 district court nominees, even though almost all were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without objection, and 12 of them have been nominated to courts that are so overwhelmed that the vacant seats have been designated “judicial emergencies.” Many have been waiting for months for a vote on the Senate floor. And confirming these nominees would have reduced the number of judicial vacancies by over one-fifth.
It would have been so easy to follow prior Senate practice, and confirm all 17 nominees. In September 2008, also before a Presidential election, the Senate confirmed 10 district court nominees at once – one day after they had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. With every reason to vote on these nominees, there is no explanation for the Senate’s failure to do so, other than obstruction. Cold comfort to the millions of Americans in whose courts empty judges’ chairs persist.