Senate Republicans Haven’t Confirmed A Single Judicial Nominee in More Than Five Months
At the expense of the American people, they’re leaving vacancies open for President-elect Trump to fill.
On a Wednesday afternoon back in July, the Senate voted to confirm Brian Martinotti to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Martinotti was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a voice vote, and ultimately confirmed by the Senate 92–5. His nomination wasn’t controversial, but he still had to wait nearly 13 months for a confirmation vote after President Obama nominated him.
More than five months later, Martinotti is still the last judicial nominee to receive a vote in the Republican-led Senate — one that has confirmed only two circuit court and 18 district court nominees in the 114th Congress. And while the obstruction of Merrick Garland — Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, now languishing for 267 days — has been given some attention, even less has been given to the Senate Republicans’ slow-walking of lower-court nominees.
There are 25 nominees waiting for a vote right now, and they’ve all been fully vetted, approved by their home-state senators, and voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support — all but two unanimously. They could all be confirmed in a matter of minutes. And if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t hold votes before adjourning for the year, the process will have to start all over again when President-elect Donald Trump takes office next year — all at the expense of the American people.
Since Republicans took control of the Senate in January of last year, judicial emergencies have more than tripled from 12 to 38. Confirming the 25 nominees pending on the floor would fill nine of those emergency vacancies, and it would also add a level of diversity to the federal judiciary. More than half of the nominees (14) are women, and many would make history if confirmed. Jennifer Puhl, nominated to the 8th Circuit, would be the first woman ever in North Dakota on the federal bench and would fill one of those emergencies. Stephanie Finley, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, would be the first African American to serve on that court. Inga Bernstein, nominated to Massachusetts’ district court, would be the first openly LGBT judge to sit on a court in the 1st Circuit.
Senate Republicans aren’t just leaving these seats open for Trump to fill. In the process, they’re also tacitly supporting the ongoing damage that having empty courtrooms does to the American people. The situation is particularly dire in Idaho, as explained in the Spokesman Review last month:
Idaho has been down to just one active federal U.S. district judge since July of 2015, when longtime District Judge Edward Lodge took senior status, a move he’d first announced in September of 2014. The federal court system has declared a judicial emergency in Idaho due to the shortage of judges, and Idaho has been tapping out-of-state judges to hear Idaho cases. In addition, Lodge, 82, who intended to reduce his caseload when he took senior status, still is hearing cases.
Obama tapped David Nye to fill the seat in April, and he’s been waiting for a vote on the Senate floor for nearly five months. Nye has the strong support of Idaho’s two Republican senators, Mike Crapo and James Risch. There’s no reason for the wait. And for many people in Idaho and across the nation, justice delayed has meant justice denied.
After the 2008 election, none of George W. Bush’s nominees were left stranded on the Senate floor. In fact, a Democratic Senate confirmed 68 of Bush’s lower-court nominees in the final two years of his administration. Today, Republicans shouldn’t be rewarded for obstruction, or for their postponement of justice for many Americans. Before adjourning for the holidays, they should give the nation a gift — a slightly better staffed federal bench, with fewer judicial emergencies — by holding votes immediately.