The Senate on Monday confirmed the last three — one appellate and two district court seats — of 17 judges under a deal cut by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell back in March.
The three nominees were confirmed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The three are Jacqueline H. Nguyen for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, John Z. Lee for a district court seat in Illinois and Kristine G. Baker for a district court seat in Arkansas. Nguyen will become the first Vietnamese American federal appeals court judge.
The action will leave 19 judicial nominees awaiting votes on the Senate floor, five of them for appeals courts and 14 for trial or district slots.
While some observers — including, sadly, this column — too often dismiss the district judges as chopped liver, it should be noted that they are the ones who do the heavy lifting in terms of keeping the federal courthouses running and backlogs as low as possible.
As it turns out, many of those confirmed under the deal are filling seats in courthouse where there are judicial “emergencies,” meaning basically that there aren’t enough judges to keep up with the workload.
So now the 19 pending nominees, all of them approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, will sweat it out until the August recess, when the so-called “Thurmond rule” often shuts down the process.
The “rule,” named for the late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond posits that, sometime in the summer in a presidential election year, no judges will be confirmed without the consent of the Republican and Democratic leaders and the judiciary chairman and ranking minority member.
Democrats have refused to recognize the rule and are known to flout it, blissfully confirming Republican presidents’ nominees well into the fall — thus depriving incoming Democratic presidents of seats to fill.
The Republicans not only adhere to the rule but have been most adept at a fine four-corner stall until the rule might plausibly be invoked.