SENATE MAJORITY LEADER Trent Lott has finally committed himself to holding floor votes for two nominees to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals: Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon. The two nominees have been waiting far too long for the Senate to act on their nominations. Judge Paez's nomination has been pending, in fact, since January 1996. Mr. Lott has, until now, been content to let individual senators hold them up (Sen. Bob Smith has acknowledged putting a hold on them, and Sen. Jeff Sessions has refused to say whether he has done so). So the majority leader's commitment to hold a vote -- which came as part of an agreement with Minority Leader Tom Daschle to break a more general logjam on nominations -- is certainly good news.
But it isn't good enough. The agreement requires a vote no earlier than mid-March of next year -- a full four months from now. By that time, Judge Paez will have waited more than four years and Ms. Berzon more than two. An immediate vote for both hardly seems unreasonable, especially considering that we are likely to learn nothing more about them in the intervening months.
Nor does the recent little flurry of judicial confirmations redeem the Senate's dreadful confirmation process over the last year. Since the fiasco of the Senate's rejection of Ronnie White, the Senate has moved several nominees, bringing the total of confirmations this year to 31. A few more are still possible, and they include highly qualified nominees who have waited too long for consideration -- notably Timothy Dyk's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and Ronald Gould's nomination to the 9th Circuit.
Even with this last-minute effort to bulk up the numbers, however, this year's performance remains dismal compared with the 66 judges confirmed last year. A commitment to hold votes on Judge Paez and Ms. Berzon is a positive step toward fixing the confirmation process. But given the long lag, it is a small step with respect to a process that needs a lot of fixing.