These Republican Senators Want Their Judicial Nominees Confirmed. Majority Leader McConnell Isn’t Listening.

Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

When the U.S. Senate left for a seven-week summer recess last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R. Ky., continued to ignore repeated pleas from Republican and Democratic Senators to hold votes on 20 district and circuit court nominees pending on the Senate floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved all but one of these nominees on unopposed voice votes (and the other was approved on a bipartisan 13–7 vote).

Republican Senators with pending nominees aren’t happy. In fact, all 16 Republican senators who have a nominee (or nominees) pending on the Senate floor have spoken favorably about them and want to see a confirmation vote, as have other Republican senators with nominees who are still in committee. These senators need to keep talking about and urging — and demanding — that McConnell schedules votes after recess. Unless McConnell hears from them and obliges, Americans seeking justice will continue to face an overworked and understaffed federal judiciary made worse by this Senate majority’s inaction.

Here’s a sampling of what Republican senators with nominees on the floor have said, listed in order of nomination — beginning with a Tennessee nominee who’s been waiting since May 2015:


Tennessee — U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee

Edward Stanton III, nominated on May 21, 2015

1 Sen. Bob Corker: ‘While Senator Corker does not control the floor schedule and which judicial nominees are brought up for confirmation, he remains supportive of Mr. Stanton,’ Corker’s office said. 4/26/16; “Throughout his legal career, Mr. Stanton has distinguished himself …. I want to congratulate him, his family and the administration for nominating such a qualified person. I hope that he will be confirmed very, very soon.” 9/30/2015

“I hope that he will be confirmed very, very soon.”

2 Sen. Lamar Alexander: Alexander told the committee that Tennessee “is fortunate to have such a well-qualified nominee” and that he would vote to confirm Stanton “if Majority Leader McConnell brings him to the floor for a vote.” 4/26/2016; “We’ll do everything we can to urge the Senate to confirm [Stanton and two other nominees] this year [2015], if possible. These three aren’t controversial so I see no reason why they shouldn’t move through.” 9/30/15; “I urge the committee to support his nomination and the Senate to speedily confirm him.” 9/30/15

Pennsylvania — U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Susan Baxter and Marilyn Horan, nominated on July 30, 2015

3 Sen. Pat Toomey: “I went down and asked unanimous consent to bring them up because the vacancies have been the longest. I’ve been consistently pushing for this…. One’s a Democrat, the other’s a Republican, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get that done.” 7/14/2016; “the Federal courthouse in Erie, PA — the fourth biggest city in Pennsylvania — has a vacant courthouse. … so the people in Erie and the surrounding counties have very long travel distances…. There is no question in my mind, both of these women will make outstanding additions to the Federal bench … Three years is just far too long. … Senator Casey, made a unanimous consent request for these 2 Pennsylvania judges but also 9 others, for a total of 11. I was not on the Senate floor at the time. Had I been, I would have voiced my support for that request … Unfortunately, Leader McConnell disagreed and raised an objection. … we have excellent candidates who have been vetted by both sides…. It does not serve the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to have to continue to wait.” 5/11/16; “I think, and I hope, we are close to filling an empty courthouse in Erie, PA….. We are well in the process of making sure that there will be, and I am sure it will come to a close soon.” 1/11/16; “I’m particularly looking forward to a prompt confirmation for these four nominees.” 12/9/15; Toomey spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said Toomey “has spoken directly with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to emphasize the importance of getting these judges confirmed as soon as possible.” 12/2/15; Toomey restated his support for Horan and said he “remains fully committed to getting her confirmed as soon as possible.” 11/11/15; “Today is especially good news for Erie since the city’s federal courthouse will have a sitting judge for the first time in 2 years. …. I look forward to working with Senator Casey on a bipartisan basis to have these outstanding nominees confirmed by the Senate.” 7/30/15

Oklahoma — U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma

Suzanna Mitchell and Scott Palk, nominated on December 16, 2015

4 Sen. James Lankford: “I’m pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee has affirmed what Oklahomans already knew — Judge Mitchell and Mr. Palk will be solid judges on the U.S. District Court. I congratulate them on this important next step in the process.” 5/20/2016; Sen. Lankford thinks the two will be advanced by the committee and confirmed by the full Senate this year. 4/21/16; “Suzanne’s and Scott’s background and work in Oklahoma make them uniquely qualified to serve our state as federal judges. I believe they are devoted to public service and will uphold both the rule of law and integrity of the court. I ask my Senate colleagues to confirm their nominations.” 4/20/16; “We look forward to their nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmation by the full Senate.” 12/16/15

5 Sen. Jim Inhofe: “I am hopeful they will soon be serving the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Both have received a wide range of praise from Oklahoma leaders and their colleagues, and I fully expect both will soon continue to serve Oklahoma with honor in their new roles.” 5/20/2016; “[Judge Mitchell’s] experience with all aspects of the courtroom provides her with the unique perspective and skill set to be an impartial judge that upholds the rule of law. …. Former Senator and current Oklahoma University President, David Boren, praised Mr. Palk by saying he’d ‘make an excellent judge’ who would be ‘balanced and fair in his approach’ and has ‘an excellent reputation for complete honesty and integrity.’” 4/20/16; “Both have strong bipartisan support and should be permitted a hearing and a vote in the Senate.” 2/21/16

“I am hopeful they will soon be serving the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.”

Utah — U.S. District Court for the District of Utah

Ronald Russell, nominated on December 16, 2015

6 Sen. Orrin Hatch: Sen. Hatch, the most senior Republican in the chamber, has his own judicial nominee he wants cleared soon …. Hatch, himself a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has his own pick in mind: Ron Russell …. Russell is also strongly backed by fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee. “We’d sure like to have that happen because he’s a very fine man and bipartisan,” Hatch said of Russell. The senior Utah senator said he is bending McConnell’s ear, trying to secure a confirmation vote for Russell. 7/14/16; “Even in this challenging political environment, senators on both sides of the aisle recognized that Ron’s experience, reputation, and character make him a nominee everyone can support. Ron … will continue the tradition of excellence on the U.S. District Court in Utah.” 5/19/2016; “I was honored to recommend Ron for appointment, and now I urge my colleagues to approve Ron’s nomination promptly.” 4/20/16; “I’m extraordinarily pleased that the President has nominated Ron Russell …. I am confident that Ron will make an excellent jurist, and I will work to help ensure his timely confirmation by the Senate.” 12/17/15

7 Sen. Mike Lee: “Ron is an outstanding attorney and an upstanding Utahn through and through,” Lee said at Thursday’s committee meeting. 5/19/16; “This is a good day for the federal judiciary and for Utah. Ron is an extraordinary talent, and I look forward to a speedy confirmation so that he can get to work.” 12/16/2015

“I look forward to a speedy confirmation so that he can get to work.”

Indiana — U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

Winfield Ong, nominated on January 12, 2016

8 Sen. Dan Coats: “I applaud the committee’s vote to approve the nomination of Winfield Ong. Given the ongoing judicial emergency in the Southern District of Indiana, this vacancy needs to be filled. Winfield Ong’s qualifications and outstanding record of public service make him the right person for this important position. … I urge the Senate to hold a confirmation vote on Winfield Ong as soon as possible.” 6/16/2016; “I … trust that the Senate will act swiftly with confirmation.” 5/18/16; Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) today announced that he will support the nomination of Winfield Denton Ong in order to address the pressing judicial emergency in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana …. “The Judicial Conference of the United States has declared a judicial emergency in Indiana’s Southern District, and this important role needs to be filled quickly,” said Coats. 1/12/16

“This important role needs to be filled quickly.”

Wisconsin — U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

Donald Schott, nominated on January 12, 2016

9 Sen. Ron Johnson: The Senate Judiciary Committee … passed out [Schott’s nomination] last month — which came after Johnson blessed the move. Johnson spokesman Patrick McIlheran said that with this step, Johnson “proactively moved the nomination forward” and showed he supports it. 7/14/16; “I signed the blue slip recommending that the Judiciary Committee consider the nomination of Don Schott, which it reported out favorably today,” Johnson said. “I congratulate Mr. Schott on his nomination’s progress.” 6/16/2016

North Dakota — U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit

Jennifer Puhl, nominated on January 28, 2016

10 Sen. John Hoeven: “Jennifer Puhl is well qualified to serve on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and we’re pleased that the committee has favorably reviewed her. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, she has focused on prosecuting crimes involving child exploitation, sex offender registration, human trafficking and crimes on the Indian reservations. Puhl has a reputation for being nonpartisan and enjoys broad support on both sides of the aisle. I will continue to support her and work to get a full floor vote on her nomination.” 7/14/2016; “Jennifer Puhl is well qualified to serve on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and we support her nomination.” 6/21/16

“I will continue to support her and work to get a full floor vote on her nomination.”

Louisiana — U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

Stephanie Finley, nominated on February 4, 2016

11 Sen. David Vitter: “Not only is Ms. Finley a great Louisianan but she’s also demonstrated her patriotism by serving in our nation’s armed forces. As a member of the U.S. Air Force until 1995 and an ongoing career in the U.S. Air Force reserves, Ms. Finley has continued to distinguish her commitment to our law and to this nation.” 5/18/2016

Louisiana — U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Claude Kelly III, nominated on February 4, 2016

12 Sen. Bill Cassidy: “Sen. Cassidy of Louisiana also strongly supports the two nominees from Louisiana. He could not be here because of other commitments,” Vitter told the Senate Judiciary Committee. 5/18/2016

South Carolina — U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Donald Coggins, Jr., nominated on February 25, 2016

13 Sen. Tim Scott: “I offer my endorsement of Mr. Coggins because we need qualified judges in our federal system and in my home state of South Carolina and Mr. Coggins certainly fits the bill…. and the American Bar Association has rated him unanimously well qualified for this position. It is my privilege today to endorse Mr. Coggins before this Committee.” 6/21/2016

14 Sen. Lindsey Graham: “I’d like to associate myself with those comments of Sen. Scott. We’ve got a good nominee on our hands here. …” And later: “I will do everything I can to move you through the process quickly because we need more judges but more importantly we need good judges, and I think you will fit that bill.” 6/21/2016

“I will do everything I can to move you through the process quickly…”

Idaho — U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho

David Nye, nominated on April 5, 2016

15 Sen. Mike Crapo: “Judge Nye has my support, the support of Senator Risch and the support of the White House. I look forward to building on that momentum when the full Senate considers Judge Nye’s nomination. The people of Idaho must be assured that they are served by well qualified judges and I will work with my colleagues to see that Judge Nye’s nomination is confirmed.” According to the Senator’s spokesperson, Sens. Crapo and Risch are “staying confident that we can get a floor vote and get Judge Nye serving.” 7/14/2016; “The nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States has declared a judicial emergency for Idaho and has recommended in every one of its reports to Congress since 2003 that Idaho be authorized for a third district court judgeship…. we have been a three caseload state being handled by only one active judge…. I strongly encourage this committee to approve Judge Nye’s nomination as soon as possible” 6/21/2016; “I am committed to working diligently and enthusiastically to obtain the consent of the Senate for Judge Nye’s confirmation.” 4/5/16

16 Sen. James Risch: “Judge Nye is a sound and principled jurist and I applaud my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee for unanimously voting to move his nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote. I will continue to work with my colleagues to have Judge Nye’s nomination confirmed as expeditiously as possible. The people of Idaho are depending on it.” 7/14/2016; “I want to underscore the necessity of moving Judge Nye’s nomination along … Senator Crapo and I … urge passage of this nomination as soon as possible.” 6/21/16

“The people of Idaho are depending on it.”

When senators return from their recess next month, they could swiftly take up all 20 nominees pending on the floor — if McConnell will allow it. And he should, because the matter is urgent: Five of these nominees would fill judicial emergencies — a designation by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts — and in total, since Republicans took control of the Senate in January 2015, judicial emergencies have skyrocketed from 12 to 30.

Of course, one nomination still pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee is Merrick Garland’s to the U.S. Supreme Court. His nomination made history last month when he became the Supreme Court nominee to wait the longest to be confirmed — a record set 100 years ago. Senate Republicans still haven’t even scheduled a hearing on Judge Garland’s nomination, something they should prioritize when they return on September 6 — which will mark 21 years since Garland was initially nominated to his seat on the D.C. Circuit. Republicans supported him two decades ago. The least they can do is allow a hearing and a vote in 2016.