Presidential election years are notoriously bad for nominees. For one thing, the Senate will probably meet fewer days in 2012, as it usually has in presidential election years. And the mood in Congress gets even testier, making what’s become a contentious process that much more partisan.
And during recent presidential election years, confirmation votes for circuit court nominees end in early summer. Last votes for district court nominees were in September or October.
The Senate isn’t waiting for the inevitable presidential ad blitzing to ramp up the acrimony over judges. In recent weeks, a spat has erupted in the Senate over the pace of judicial nominations. The debate turns on how one defines slow.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy is charging that Republicans are stalling on President Obama’s nominees, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the committee’s ranking Republican, says the chamber is trotting along, moving judges faster than it did under George W. Bush.
But the two are using apples-and-oranges data, our colleague Emily Heil reports. Grassley took to the Senate floor last week, noting that Obama’s circuit court nominees wait an average of 66 days for a hearing, while Bush’s waited 247; he says Obama’s district court nominees waited 79 to Bush’s 100.
Leahy argues that that’s because the Bush administration used a different process for submitting nominations, simultaneously nominating a judge and submitting him or her for the standard (and time-consuming) American Bar Association review. The Obama administration waits until the review is complete before submitting the name.
Here’s one bottom line: Obama’s confirmation rate for both circuit and district court nominees is a dismal 68 percent, compared with Bush’s 81 percent and Bill Clinton’s 82 percent.
The tussle over nominations, oddly enough, comes just as the Senate is in the throes of a particularly productive confirming spurt: Its members have approved 11 judges since returning from the September recess (maybe they just needed a little time in the time-out corner before deciding they could get along).
An item in Friday’s column about Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban apparently kicked up something of a fuss in Budapest. Orban, rebuked publicly in June by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for autocratic tendencies, not to mention his delusions of grandeur, has been ducking our ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Tsakopolous Kounalakis.
Kounalakis has been trying for a couple of months to deliver a formal protest, or demarche, to Orban about Washington’s unhappiness with his dreadful behavior. But Orban’s just been too busy to receive her.