Mitch McConnell Just Tried Skipping Over Cory Booker’s Judicial Nominee Again

Instead of trying to compromise, the Majority Leader’s proposed votes are becoming more partisan.

Sen. Cory Booker, D. N.J., spoke on the Senate floor on Tuesday about Chief Judge Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court — as of last Friday — has been languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee for six months. Booker’s larger message, though, was about obstruction at all levels of the federal judiciary, including district and circuit court nominees pending on the Senate floor.

“We know across the country though that federal judges at other levels of the judiciary are facing a real crisis. They’re overworked, and they’re understaffed, because of a judicial vacancy crisis.”

For Booker, the blockade has become personal.

On September 7, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R. Ky., tried skipping over his nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey (Julien Neals), in addition to a Tennessee nominee (Edward Stanton III) by offering a “bipartisan package” of four nominees equally from Republican and Democratic states. Neals and Stanton have been waiting longest for a vote on the floor. And they happen to both be African American. Booker rightly pointed out the obvious: The perception of skipping over those two nominees in particular should be problematic for everyone.

On Tuesday, Booker tried getting votes on the next seven nominees in line — including Neals and Stanton — but McConnell said no. McConnell cited figures comparing the number of judges President Obama and President George W. Bush have had confirmed — a meaningless comparison given the number of vacancies they faced — and offered a different package of nominees. Unlike his bipartisan package two weeks before, these four nominees were more partisan — and skipped over Booker’s nominee, whose vacancy is now an emergency.

While Booker’s request on Tuesday included the next seven judges in line — three who would fill judicial emergencies — McConnell’s request skipped over several nominees and included zero emergency vacancies. Booker obviously objected.

“There is a branch of government that’s independent of ours that we are strangling right now through our inaction. Any objective understanding of the functioning of the American government should clearly state that one branch should not strangle the operations of another — undermining what is clearly in the best interest of the people,” Booker told McConnell. “This is not a partisan tit-for-tat — Bush has this much, Obama has this much — this is about the fact that we have a proliferation of judicial emergencies. That there are businesses — that our very economy, actually — is being undermined because businesses can’t get a fair hearing before the judicial branch.”

“It would be one thing if these nominations were clearly partisan, but these nominations are coming from red states and blue states. They’re coming from Republican senators — recommendations to the president, mind you — and Democratic senators,” he continued.

The nominees are indeed not partisan. Every district court nominee currently pending on the Senate floor was voice-voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and every nominee on the floor — ones recommended by both Democrats and Republicans — have the support of their home-state senators (including 16 Republicans). Given the number of vacancies on our nation’s federal courts, confirming them months ago should have been a no-brainer.

Booker asked for votes on just Neals and Stanton. Again, McConnell said no.

“I’m hoping that in the intervening hours and days that we are here in Washington, D.C., that this profound obligation we have of keeping the functioning of three branches of government, that we can give some attention to that and perhaps solve this impasse,” Booker said as he left the floor. Next week will mark one year since his nominee, Julien Neals, had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 19 months since he was nominated. That McConnell has now tried skipping over him twice, for no substantive reason, is indefensible.