Obama reminds Senate about judicial vacancy crisis

OBAMA REMINDS SENATE ABOUT JUDICIAL VACANCY CRISIS…. Before the Senate adjourned, Republicans agreed to confirm 54 pending nominees who’ve been waiting to get to work in the Obama administration. The GOP refused to act, however, on 23 judiciary nominees who’ve been waiting for months for an up-or-down floor vote, but who’ve been blocked by the Senate minority.

President Obama reminded senators yesterday that this can’t continue.

President Obama has once again complained to lawmakers about the slow pace of judicial confirmations, calling the blocking of his nominations “a dramatic shift from past practice that could cause a crisis in the judiciary.”

The strong language comes in a letter to the bipartisan leadership of the Senate sent late Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Caucus. But the president’s anger is aimed primarily at Republicans, who have consistently blocked his nominations.

“By denying these nominees a simple up-or-down vote, the Republican leadership is undermining the ability of our courts to deliver justice to those in need,” Mr. Obama writes in the letter.

“If there is a genuine concern about the qualifications of judicial nominees, that is a debate I welcome,” he added, but said that the current situation “does a disservice to the greatest traditions of this body and the American people it serves.”

Truer words were never spoken. Indeed, the administration seems to be considering this with an added sense of urgency lately. Just this week, Attorney General Eric Holder had an op-ed on the subject, explaining that “our judicial system desperately needs the Senate to act…. The federal judicial system that has been a rightful source of pride for the United States — the system on which we all depend for a prompt and fair hearing of our cases when we need to call on the law — is stressed to the breaking point.”

There also seems to be a growing recognition in the media about this. Dahlia Lithwick and Carl Tobias made the case this week that the vacancies in the federal courts is literally dangerous; the L.A. Times editorial board is urging Republicans to “quit stalling“; Politics Daily called the fiasco “embarrassing” to the Senate; and The Hill ran an item accurately characterizing this as an “emergency.”

I’m glad to see this getting some attention, but the next step is the GOP caucus actually letting the Senate function for a change. If Republicans don’t like the various nominees, they can and should vote against them.

But simply bringing the entire process to a generational standstill is untenable. I know this isn’t the sexiest issue, but there’s a crisis on the courts, and it’s the direct result of Senate Republicans engaging in tactics that no one has ever seen before. It is no exaggeration to say the status quo is the worst it’s ever been — the Alliance For Justice recently reported that President Obama “has seen a smaller percentage of his nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency than any president in American history.”

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently noted the broken process, and argued, “It’s important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk.”