July 3, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced today that it will hold a hearing next Wednesday for the first of the three D.C. Circuit court nominees, Patricia Millet. While they’re at it, they will also cover three district court nominees.

As Greg rewarded a while back, July is going to be nominations month in the Senate, and judicial nominations are the second part of it.

In fact, so far this year, foot-dragging on the Senate floor hasn’t been a problem for judicial selections. Currently, the nominees who have waited for the longest time at that stage are one who was approved by the Judiciary Committee in April and two from May — and two of those have been cleared for final confirmation votes next week, when the Senate returns from recess. And there are only two other lifetime appointment judges on the Senate calendar right now.

We still don’t know — Republicans don’t seem to know — whether Millet and the other two recent D.C. Circuit court nominees will be widely opposed by Republicans, or just receive some relatively token opposition. Indeed: As long as there are six votes for cloture, most Republicans can oppose them, and every single Republican can vote against final confirmation without stopping them.

At any rate, the first showdown in July is likely to be executive branch nominations. While many of the minor and uncontroversial ones have been confirmed — hey, compared with Barack Obama’s first term, that’s progress! — several key posts remain. There’s Richard Cordray, nominated to be Director of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, ready for a vote since March (and since Obama’s first term), but blocked so far by a filibuster. There’s Gina McCarthy, designated as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. There’s Thomas Perez, selected for secretary of labor. And there are five picks for the National Labor Relations Board.

Regular readers know that I have mixed opinions about filibusters of judicial nominations. I don’t think they should be routine, but I do think there’s some logic for an intense Senate minority to defeat an indifferent Senate majority — especially in the case of an appeals court judge who can set policy for decades into the future. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any good justification for blockading the D.C. Circuit court (not approving any nominee), and I think a simple majority should be enough for executive branch nominations.

Either way, we’ll start to learn what Republicans are going to do next Wednesday, and then soon after when the Judiciary Committee actually votes on Millet. Will committee Republicans oppose her? If so, will it be based (at least publicly) on something in her record, or will they really oppose her (and thus every D.C. Circuit nominee) because that bench supposedly already has enough judges?

Both the fate of many Obama policies and the near-term fate of the Senate are up for grabs. Senators are playing for high stakes here.