BACK FROM its Easter break, the Senate confirmed its first judicial nomination of the year on Tuesday, and it did so unanimously. That’s the sort of action we expected when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised a return to regular order after November’s election.
But that small glimmer of responsibility is overshadowed by the unconscionably shabby treatment the Senate has shown to Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s well-qualified nominee for attorney general. The sitting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Ms. Lynch was an outstanding choice who should not have had any trouble getting confirmed — five months ago. Instead, lawmakers have used the opportunity of her nomination to exert legislative leverage and score political points.
First, Republican lawmakers tied Ms. Lynch’s nomination to their anger over Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration enforcement. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Lynch declined to repudiate the Obama Justice Department’s position on the legality of those executive actions. That persuaded several Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against her, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the chairman. Her nomination proceeded with the support of a handful of Republicans, but more appear set to oppose her on the floor — if, that is, she ever gets a vote.
For now, Ms. Lynch’s nomination remains stalled while senators fight a partisan war over abortion, a fight that has nothing to do with her. Democrats object to a human-trafficking bill that contains the so-called Hyde Amendment, which restricts government spending on abortion. Instead of passing by acclamation, as it would have done without the abortion controversy, the bill has been blocked by a Democratic filibuster. Lawmakers are looking for ways around the logjam that will placate the pressure groups up in arms over the Hyde language. Until that agreement is reached, Mr. McConnell won’t bring up the Lynch nomination.
The majority leader argues that the Democrats are to blame for the holdup, attacking a bill they should be supporting. There’s some truth to that: Republicans offered compromise language weeks ago. Democrats should have pushed for a few reasonable adjustments and passed the trafficking bill then. Instead, the Senate is poised to vote Thursday on a GOP compromise measure that the Democratic leadership vows to oppose.
But the Democrats’ irresponsibility doesn’t justify Mr. McConnell’s. There’s no principled reason to link Ms. Lynch’s nomination to the passage of the trafficking bill. Ms. Lynch should get immediate floor consideration, regardless of how Thursday’s trafficking vote goes, and on her merits she should be confirmed handily.
The confirmation battles of the past several years have harmed the country. Some who should have been confirmed have instead become political victims and turned away from government service. We have no doubt that highly qualified potential nominees decided against pursuing or accepting government jobs because they did not want to subject themselves to the broken process. A return to good order in the Senate should mean that presidential nominees, particularly those who aren’t slated to serve lifetime judicial terms, obtain speedy confirmations except in rare and exceptional circumstances. That hasn’t happened, and the Republican majority has no one to blame but itself.