The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared two of President Obama's nominees to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, but they and two other picks for the court appear stuck for now amid an end-of-session Senate logjam.
The judiciary panel agreed by voice vote to advance the nominations to the District Court of current D.C. Superior Court Judge James E. Boasberg and Amy Berman Jackson, a lawyer at the firm Trout Cacheris. They join Beryl Howell, a commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and Robert L. Wilkins, a partner at the firm Venable, as nominees to the court who have been approved by the committee but have yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor.
Obama nominated Boasberg and Wilkins at least partly based on the recommendation of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D- D.C.), and a news release from her office lauding their approval by the Judiciary Committee said Norton "is confident that all four nominees will be confirmed by the full Senate."
There are a total of 34 judicial nominees now awaiting confirmation by the full Senate, including 26 who -- like all four D.C. nominees -- were unopposed within the Judiciary Committee. No judicial picks have been confirmed since Sept. 13, and with the Senate expected to remain in session two more weeks before adjournment, it's unclear how many, if any, of those nominees will clear the chamber.
Often at the end of a Senate session, the leaders of the two parties will negotiate a large package of nominees to move together, as Democrats need the consent of Republicans to move any nominations to the floor. But the Senate is currently deadlocked over partisan debates on taxes and spending as well as the START treaty, the Pentagon's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy and a handful of other issues. As a result, moving nominees does not appear to be on anyone's front burner at the moment.
"We hope that we will have Republican cooperation to confirm all of the President's nominees in the coming weeks," said Regan Lachapelle, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "The number of judicial vacancies in our federal courts is reaching a crisis point, and we hope that Republicans will work with us to ensure that justice for Americans seeking redress in our overwhelmed court system is no longer denied or delayed."
Republicans have rejected the suggestion that they are being obstructionist, and say that the current pileup in the Senate could be alleviated if Democrats would move the most important bills on taxes and spending now.
In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) complained that "nominees are being stalled who, if allowed to be considered, would receive unanimous or near-unanimous support, be confirmed, and be serving in the administration of justice throughout the country. This is counterproductive."
Of the four vacancies on the U.S. District Court for D.C., one has existed since January 2007, two since 2008 and one since December 2009.