Judges, judges, judges

Al Kamen
Columnist June 18, 2013

After getting off to a sluggish start this year, the Senate is now approving judges at a rapid clip.

The chamber approved two federal judges Monday night, Luis Felipe Restrepo in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales in the District of New Mexico. This latest move puts it on a lively pace of giving the nod to two judicial nominees a week since Easter.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

That’s making it just a tad harder for Democrats to slap Senate Republicans with the “obstructionist” label. And it’s putting even more pressure on the White House to start naming more nominees, since the Senate is expected to continue to whittle down the waiting list relatively quickly.

As they approve judges, Republicans are quick to point to the number of empty seats to which the White House hasn’t put up a nominee (52 of the 77 open positions).

“Where’s the obstruction if more than 90 percent of the vacancies aren’t even pending before the Senate?” a Senate GOP leadership aide asked. “We can’t block nominees who don’t exist.”

Let’s try some math.

There are 77 vacancies in the U.S. district courts and courts of appeal. But there are a measly five nominees now pending before the Senate. At the rate the chamber is going, it could easily get through that slate by next month.

Democrats, though, say the speed at which the Senate has been moving of late isn’t the entire picture.

Their arguments are threefold. First, they note that the Senate floor isn’t the only choke point for judicial nominees; Republican senators are holding up nominees earlier in the process, including failing to submit “blue slips,” the way home-state senators indicate that they don’t have objections to a nominee. (Twenty-two nominees are awaiting votes at the Senate Judiciary Committee.)

Some vacancies have remained without nominees because home-state senators have yet to make recommendations to the White House to begin with. In states with GOP senators, that means they can delay the process there. (We hear that President Obama has sufficiently badgered Democratic senators to start providing names of judges, and observers are expecting a “raft” of new names from the White House soon.)

And Democrats point to a recent Congressional Research Service report showing that Obama’s first-term nominees had to wait longer than those of most recent presidents. (The study found that Obama is the only one of the last five presidents whose district and circuit judges had to wait more than six months for confirmation). That means this recent Senate sprint is, as one observer said, “just catching up on the backlog.”

Of course, there are plenty of metrics for measuring the pace of judicial nominees. And it’s always a big political battle (see the skirmish over the D.C. Circuit).

But the Senate’s speed, at least for now, is zippy.

Not cricket

Typically, embassy soirees are a chance to sample the fine cuisines of the host countries — fine wines from France, fresh sushi from Japan.

So forgive us if an upcoming event at the Dutch Embassy strikes us as a little unappetizing. On the menu? No artisanal edam or herring, but rather crickets, mealworms and cicadas.

Our friends from the Netherlands are holding a tasting and discussion of insects as food source. The critters are environmentally friendly and nutritious, advocates say. But delicious? Ask the Dutch. Headlining the June 26 event is Marcel Dicke, the head of the entomology laboratory at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and co-author of the Dutch-language “Het Insectenkookboek” (“Insect Cookbook”).

(Don’t fret: An English-language version is scheduled to be released in the United States this fall.)

Dicke will be joined by several local experts on the topic for a discussion, then a tasting.

Cricket canapes? Now, there’s a Dutch treat.

South of Sheboygan

Former senator Russ Feingold is Great Lakes-bound.

On Tuesday, as expected, Secretary of State John Kerry picked the Wisconsin Democrat to be the U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and the ongoing crisis in the Congo.

Though Feingold is perhaps most associated with campaign finance law (as in the McCain-Feingold reforms that bear his name), he’s also got chops on issues on the continent. He led the Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Kerry chaired the panel.

He’ll replace career Foreign Service officer R. Barrie Walkley.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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