Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, September 27, 2013

Washington, DC – Senate obstruction and potential rules reform remain key topics of discussion this week.

With floor votes for President Obama’s slate of three D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominees expected in the near future, Senate Republicans are forced to decide whether they will let cooler heads prevail and allow the nominations through, or obstruct the nominees and provoke another rules showdown.

Meanwhile, outside observers continue to highlight the growing judicial vacancy crisis and the role of Senate obstruction in hollowing the nation’s courts across the country.

See below a recap of this week’s developments and analysis:

  • Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo: “If Republicans follow through with their threats to filibuster and prevent them from receiving up-or-down confirmation votes, Democrats will face a choice: give up and concede defeat, or revisit filibuster reform.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “But this first filibuster of the week — the filibuster over getting to the bill in the first place, a filibuster that chewed up three days despite no Republican actually willing to step up and vote for it — that filibuster was just obstruction for the sake of obstruction. And that’s no way to run a government.”
  • Alliance for Justice, JusticeWatch Blog: “But the Republican’s selective use of the caseload argument exposes their staunch D.C. Circuit opposition for what it really is: pure partisan obstructionism employed solely to keep Democrat-appointed judges off the nation’s second most powerful court. The Republicans like the D.C. Circuit’s current conservative bent, and they are groping for whatever argument they can to maintain the status quo … With the crucial role that the D.C. Circuit plays in the federal judiciary—taking on complex regulatory issues involving the environment, labor, and other areas that directly impact the daily lives of all Americans—there is simply too much at stake.”
  • Ian Millhiser, Think Progress: “The Senate, with its rules that give an unusual amount of power to the minority, simply wasn’t designed for the kind of swift action that needs to occur this week in order to prevent a government shutdown. If a shutdown does occur, it may happen not because Democrats and the required number of Republicans cannot agree on a plan to fund the government, but because the Senate’s rules place far too much power in the hands of nihilists like Ted Cruz.”
  • Shin Inouye, White House spokesperson in an interview with the Washington Blade: “President Obama nominated Judge William Thomas more than 10 months ago … This judicial vacancy has been declared a ‘judicial emergency,’ and the non-partisan American Bar Association has rated Judge Thomas ‘well-qualified.’ Unfortunately, his nomination continues to be stalled, and the Senate should promptly consider it without further delay.”
  • Jennifer Bendery, Huffington Post: “Rubio initially recommended Thomas to President Barack Obama late last year as a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. There's a particular urgency to filling the judgeship, vacant for 18 months. The court backlog is so bad that the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has deemed it a “judicial emergency." But something changed in recent months. Rubio withheld his consent for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on Thomas' nomination. It takes both home-state senators to sign off on a confirmation hearing, so without Rubio's approval, Thomas has been stuck in limbo. Florida's other senator, Bill Nelson (D), gave his backing to Thomas months ago.”
  • Editorial, Tampa Bay Times (FL): “U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio continues to let his desire to appease Republican conservatives get in the way of sound judgment. Rubio has withdrawn his support for William Thomas' nomination to the federal bench. Thomas is an openly gay, black circuit court judge in Miami-Dade County who is opposed by Republican conservatives seemingly for his personal characteristics. Rubio's reversal is unjustified, and he should reconsider …

    “He [Thomas] would have occupied a seat that has been open for more than 18 months, and filling it has been designated a judicial emergency. Now the screening process will have to start again, apparently to find someone who passes Rubio's tea party test.”

  • James F. Bailey, Jr., Jacksonville Daily Record (FL): “Rubio's office said the senator will continue to oppose Thomas, which means the Dade County judge's chance to serve on the federal bench goes nowhere for now. Unfortunately, holding up federal appointments to the bench has become political sport in the Congress. Because of that, up to 10 percent of federal judgeships are often vacant. Putting judicial nominees in the deep freeze is not new. However, reports say that fewer judges have been confirmed under Obama than any administration since President Richard Nixon.”
  • Anne Blythe, Charlotte Observer (NC): “North Carolina still has the nation’s longest-running judicial vacancy in the federal district courts, despite a much heralded attempt by President Barack Obama nearly three months ago to fill the post. The Eastern District of North Carolina has had a judicial vacancy since Jan. 1, 2006 – the day after federal District Court Judge Malcolm Jones Howard semi-retired.”