The Senate this evening is confirming a judicial nomination. This one is Michael Shipp, who will be a District Judge. His success, though, is still not even close to good enough. Shipp is only the third confirmation this month, and there are over 70 seats on the bench still open. Shipp’s nomination is typical of just how broken the system is. He replaces a judge who retired in August 2011; he was nominated in January; and he’s being confirmed six months later. That’s just too slow, all around. And it’s just a typical case, not a particularly bad one. There are still a handful of seats that have been open since before Barack Obama was president, and dozens that remain open from the first two years of the Obama Administration.
Again, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The White House has been far too slow to name replacements when vacancies arise, and has put far too limited resources into pushing the Senate to act. Democrats in the Senate had the votes to override partisan filibusters during the 111th Senate, and even now most nominees would have no problem reaching 60 votes if Harry Reid would force a vote. Republicans certainly deserve a large share of the blame: After all, until 2009 filibusters against judicial nominations really were rare. Republicans instituted a 60 vote practice in 2009 after loudly protesting against any judicial filibusters for the previous eight years.
And while it doesn’t let Barack Obama off the hook, one reason he’s been so slow to name judges has been the bipartisan Senate procedures, including Judicial Committee vetting practices that are far, far, more extensive than is either necessary or prudent. In particular, I’m convinced that overvetting has become a serious problem (see for example Justice Kennedy’s vetting, and a great Jason Zengerle article about vetting vice presidents.
So while it’s absolutely fair to blame Republicans for holds, filibusters, and otherwise dragging their feet, what’s really needed is a reformed process. Just remember: For every job, whether it’s judges or executive branch appointments or even the vice presidency, there’s a real cost to intense vetting. And in my view, it’s quite likely that the cost in terms of excellent people who wind up bounced out of the pool for trivial flaws or who just refuse to go through the process is greater – perhaps a lot greater – than the benefit in bouncing the unqualified or corrupt. Vetting reform may seem like a fairly boring cause, but getting quality people involved in government is actually pretty important. It’s long overdue for the Senate to do something about it.