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Obama Looks to Move Judges

Confirmation Pace Too Slow

The White House is quietly urging Senate Democrats to come up with a list of potential candidates for the federal bench, hoping to flood the pipeline with circuit and district court nominees and ratchet up the pressure on Republicans to confirm them.

The move comes after months of what Democrats say are GOP delays over President Barack Obama’s judicial selections. A White House official, who confirmed the tactic, said the administration has asked Senators to forward the names before the year is out.

With David Hamilton expected to be confirmed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, the Senate will have confirmed only three of Obama’s circuit court picks. Four of Obama’s district court nominees have been confirmed.

Twelve more circuit and district court nominations — as well as several executive branch hopefuls that fall under the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction — are in various stages of the confirmation process, with the panel expected to hold hearings or votes on several this week.

Democrats have taken an increasingly harsh line with Republicans over the selections, some of which have been stalled in the Senate for months.

During a Nov. 9 floor speech before the Senate confirmed Andre Davis to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) decried the delays.

“What is not surprising, but nonetheless disappointing, is that the Senate has been prevented from considering this nomination for five months by Republican objections. I am not surprised because Senate Republicans began this year threatening to filibuster President Obama’s judicial nominations before he had made a single one. They have followed through with that threat by obstructing and stalling the process, delaying for months the confirmation of well-qualified, consensus nominees,— Leahy said.

[IMGCAP(1)]According to several Senate Democrats, the late-year push by the White House on federal court nominees is part of a broader effort to highlight the use of GOP holds and other procedural delay tactics to Obama’s agenda.

And with the 2010 elections just around the corner, the administration would like to push through as many judicial selections as possible before the end of next spring, Democratic aides say. Court nominations are a key election year issue for Republicans, one the minority routinely uses to rally its base.

“The White House recognizes that if you want to get this done this Congress, you’ve got to start pushing. And they’re pushing hard to get judges, as they should,— Judiciary member Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said, adding that he has had conversations with White House officials on how best to move nominees.

Judiciary member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) agreed, saying, “I think our strategy is to make it clear how obstructionist they’re being, because the rules are so complex and often anonymous, it’s difficult to explain the process.—

Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who also serves on Judiciary, said that while Republicans have not yet filibustered any Obama nominees, they have used the chamber’s rules to slow-walk them, in many cases indefinitely.

“It’s like basketball before they had the 24-second rule where people would say, ‘I may not be able to beat you in 40 minutes, but I might be able to beat you in five,’— Kaufman said.

Although Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) vowed to filibuster Hamilton’s nomination, he doesn’t have a realistic chance of succeeding since 60 Democrats are expected to vote for cloture, and his nomination is supported by at least one Republican, home-state Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.).

Even so, in refusing to agree to a time limit on the debate, Republicans have forced Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to file cloture on Hamilton’s nomination, a time-consuming process that can tie up the chamber for days.

Sessions, however, rejected claims that Republicans are obstructing Obama’s nominees.

“I am telling you, this is a myth. This is not obstruction,— Sessions said.

Sessions explained that in “extraordinary— circumstances Republicans “will resist aggressively and point out why we’re objecting and why they should not be confirmed.— He insisted that the GOP is not trying to stall all of Obama’s nominations.

“I think Republicans believe in giving deference to the president. They don’t like voting against a judge, and neither do I. But the president does not get a rubber stamp on nominations,— he said.

In fact, aides in both parties said Sessions and Leahy have generally enjoyed a good working relationship this year. Leahy has held a nomination hearing almost every other week, and Sessions has not tried to slow the committee’s work, regardless of his opinion of the nominee, they said.

However, Sessions on Monday acknowledged that Republicans have objected — and will continue to object — to unanimous consent agreements on federal court nominations.

Republicans have faulted the administration for its relatively slow pace of nominating candidates to the bench, arguing that there is no backlog on the Judiciary Committee agenda. That, combined with Reid’s unwillingness to file cloture on nominees, is what GOP Senators say is to blame for the low number of confirmations this year. “I think that’s just a pre-emptive strike. … They have the ability to move them,— Sessions said.

But a Democratic Judiciary Committee aide called that argument a red herring. Does “there need to be 50 nominations pending in the Senate before we have a vote on the eight that are in the executive calendar? What’s the requirement here?— the aide asked. The aide also pointed out that Republicans have refused to agree to a time limit for debate on the nomination of Christopher Schroeder to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy, which is responsible for vetting judicial nominations.

“Harry Reid could file cloture on every one of these nominations. But would we see a repeat of what we saw with the unemployment insurance bill earlier this month?— the aide said, noting that Republicans forced Reid to run out the clock on several cloture motions related to the bill.

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