Harry Reid and Senate Democrats have announced that they are moving to a showdown on judicial vacancies beginning as early as tomorrow, with Reid filing for cloture on 17 District court nominees who have cleared the Judiciary Committee.

It’s about time! Regardless of partisan fighting, these positions are extremely important to the proper functioning of the judicial system, and Republicans have blocked them for far too long without Reid forcing the issue.

As far as I know, it’s unprecedented to file so many cloture petitions at once. Of course, it’s a response to unprecedented obstruction; never before has the minority party attempted to derail so many nominations. Until 2009, the vast majority of District Court appointments were uncontroversial. Indeed, most of Barack Obama’s nominees at this level, including most or all of this group, are still uncontroversial. Very few Republicans, if any, oppose these particular people. They just don’t want to allow votes on them.

Republicans are protesting that they are not stalling these nominees. Don’t be fooled. As Harry Reid said today, the Senate could easily “approve these judges in five minutes” if no one objected. And no one does object to these particular individuals. What we’re getting is stalling for the sake of stalling. In fact, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander on the floor of the Senate today seemed to be claiming that Republicans had no intention of blocking the nominations…as long as Harry Reid agreed not to bring them up. No, that really was the gist of their argument.

It’s not clear how Republicans will proceed and how it will all play out on the Senate floor. But this fight, over the district judge nominees who aren’t even controversial, is really just the warm-up for a looming, more-important battle over appeals judges who are also being filibustered by Republicans. Those, or at least some of those, are actually controversial. It’s not clear that Democrats have the votes for them, even if Dems are willing to fight hard. So we’ll see what happens with those. But first up is the fight over district judges, appointments that Republicans are delaying even though they don’t oppose them.

It’s good to see the Majority Leader push ahead on this one. This is an area where neither Obama nor Senate Dems have shown nearly enough fight. Perhaps this signals that if Obama wins reelection, and Harry Reid returns as majority leader, the second term will be very different.