Senate GOP filibuster of judicial nominee fails

SENATE GOP FILIBUSTER OF JUDICIAL NOMINEE FAILS…. This probably won’t generate a lot of attention, but it’s arguably the most significant political development of the day.

A trial lawyer nominated by President Barack Obama to be a federal judge in Rhode Island is on track to be confirmed after a Senate GOP filibuster attempt failed Wednesday.

Eleven Republicans joined with Democrats in the 63-33 vote Wednesday to support John McConnell’s nomination. GOP leaders opposed McConnell, citing his record as a trial lawyer in cases against businesses.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is not related to the nominee, accused John McConnell of being a lying, anti-business ambulance chaser, and was backed up by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which broke with tradition and urged senators to block the nomination, and the religious right, which condemned him as a cultural liberal.

But something very interesting happened on the Senate floor today. Senate Republicans launched a filibuster against John McConnell — just a few years after these same Senate Republicans said judicial filibusters are the single most outrageous and unconstitutional abuse imaginable — and the filibuster failed.

Eleven Senate Republicans — Alexander, Brown, Collins, Graham, Kirk, McCain, Murkowski, Snowe, Thune, Chambliss, and Isakson — broke ranks, ignored the GOP leadership, and voted for cloture. It’s certainly possible that some or all of the 11 will vote against John McConnell’s confirmation, but they agreed that he is entitled to an up-or-down vote.

Sure, 33 Republicans said the opposite. And sure, nearly all of those 33 spent eight years condemning judicial filibusters as tearing at the very fabric of democracy. And sure, the hypocrisy from some of the GOP senators is pretty astounding.

But 11 Senate Republicans did the right thing — and that’s pretty astounding.

On the substance, McConnell is a terrific progressive nominee, and the far-right’s apoplexy is ridiculous. But in the bigger picture, there’s a vacancy crisis in the judiciary right now, created almost entirely by Senate Republicans refusing to allow President Obama’s judicial nominees to be considered in a timely manner. Today was a big step towards addressing this crisis in a fair, bipartisan way. Republicans don’t have to like all of the nominees the White House sends to the Senate, but they should at least stick to their own principles and allow the jurists to get an up-or-down vote.

This afternoon, 11 Republicans agreed. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Jonathan Bernstein added that the existing logjam allows a handful of uncontroversial nominees to be confirmed in periodic bursts — basically one or two a week, who generate unanimous support — but has stymied judicial nominees who enjoy majority support, but face significant GOP opposition. Progress on John McConnell today suggests there may be progress on this group, too, clearing the way for breaking the logjam, and offering Obama a chance to help shift the judiciary away from the far-right.

Here’s hoping the progress continues.

Postscript: Thanks to Glenn Sugameli at Judging the Environment, my go-to expert on judicial nominees and confirmations, for the background info and links.