The news on the judicial-nominations front has been relatively, if very tentatively, good this year — yes, Goodwin Liu was defeated by filibuster, but the total number of vacancies has finally been dropping. But the news on executive-branch nominations continues to be just awful.
One example is Jesse Eisenger’s terrific story from last week about how Barack Obama is trying to regulate banking with, as he put it, “a bunch of empty seats.” Want another? The acting solicitor general has been much in the news lately: He released a historic “Confession of Error” about actions by the Justice Department in defending the Korematsu case, and earlier he became involved in the ACA court cases at the appeals court level.
But wait — acting solicitor general? Okay, think back . . . you know this one. The old solicitor general is now Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, right? Yup. She was nominated in early May 2010, more than a year ago. Neal Katyal has been acting solicitor general for more than a year. How broken is the process? It took until January 2011, eight months later after Kagan’s nomination, for Barack Obama to get around to nominating a permanent replacement, Donald Verrilli. It then took another four months for that nomination to get through the Judiciary Committee, which finally acted this month. Since the Judiciary Committee vote was 17-1, there’s an excellent chance Verrilli will be confirmed by the full Senate. When? Who knows?
Every single step along this path is broken and desperately needs reform. Want to really be depressed? Go through the mind-numbing materials that Verrilli had to submit to the Judiciary Committee. It’s an absolute travesty; there’s just no reason for the level of detail that Judiciary requires. Of course it’s hard to find people willing to put themselves through this kind of nonsense.
A lot of this has to do with the Senate, but a great deal of it could be changed, overnight, by the president if he wanted to. It’s just a disgrace, and a real impediment to good government.