Nomination roadblocks

Saturday, November 20, 2010

MARY HELEN Murguia enjoys the support of her two Republican home state senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved her nomination in August. Yet Ms. Murguia, President Obama's pick for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, has yet to receive a full vote on the Senate floor.

Albert Diaz, a 4th Circuit nominee, has waited even longer - nearly one year - for his floor vote after receiving a thumbs-up from all 19 of the Judiciary Committee's members and winning the backing of his Republican home state senator, North Carolina's Richard Burr.

Even trial court nominees - typically not the target of stall tactics or intense attacks - are getting caught up in the perplexing political game. Kimberly J. Mueller, for example, also earned unanimous approval from the Judiciary Committee for a California trial court that is among the busiest in the country; she has spent the past six months waiting for final approval.

In all, 23 of Mr. Obama's nominees are awaiting a Senate floor vote; 16 of them received unanimous approval from the Judiciary Committee and the vast majority were deemed "well qualified" by the American Bar Association. Eight - including the three mentioned above - have been tapped for seats designated "judicial emergencies" because of the length of the vacancy and the workload of the court.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the delays, starting with the president, who has been slow and often late in sending up names. The White House has also been timid in fighting for nominees. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has not been assertive in scheduling floor votes, and the push by some interest groups to win confirmation for liberal favorites such as controversial 9th Circuit pick Goodwin Liu may be holding up progress on the broader slate of more moderate nominees. Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been all too eager to object to votes even on nominees with bipartisan support. The stall tactics are undoubtedly payback for Democratic filibusters of controversial but highly qualified nominees of President George W. Bush. The difference today is that even nominees without a whiff of opposition are being blocked.

Presidents deserve significant deference in judicial nominations, and every nominee deserves an up-or-down vote. But the hold-up of nominees who have garnered unanimous, bipartisan support is particularly offensive. These nominees should confirmed swiftly before Congress recesses next month.


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