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Liberal Advocates Worry as Senate Leaders Negotiate Pending Nominations

The Senate is expected to confirm a host of President Barack Obama’s judicial picks before the end of the year, but liberal advocates worry that their favored nominees won’t be among those receiving approval.

“My view is all the pending nominations should be voted on by the end of the year, and there’s no justification to leave any on the table, given the length of time almost all of these have been pending,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, a national association of progressive groups.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are in talks over which of the pending judicial nominations to move in the last few days of the legislative session. The two have already whittled down the list by approving 12 nominees since Friday, but 26 are still on the calendar. Of those, four are considered controversial and have no chance of clearing by unanimous consent: Goodwin Liu, who was nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and district court nominees Louis Butler, Edward Chen and John McConnell.

GOP opposition toward the quartet is “extremely disappointing,” Aron said. “There’s no question that each of the four have outstanding qualifications and enormous respect from their colleagues, both in the legal and academic communities.”

Republicans have sharply criticized Liu as an extreme pick. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved him along party lines in September.

McConnell, a Rhode Island native, has been hit for his campaign contributions to Democratic candidates. Republicans blocked Reid from moving Chen’s nomination before adjourning the chamber at the end of last year, and both Chen’s and Butler’s nominations were eventually returned to the White House. Obama renominated both men in January. 

Of the 26 nominations pending on the calendar, 15 were approved by the Judiciary Committee during the lame-duck session. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Judiciary panel, said in a recent interview that they likely won’t win confirmation before Members leave for the year.

“I doubt there’s time to debate the controversial nominees, but most are noncontroversial,” Sessions told Roll Call last week. “The ones who have been nominated recently probably won’t clear, but those that have been out there awhile will probably clear.”

An Associated Press report Monday said that Reid and McConnell have agreed on a list of 19 judicial nominees to clear before the end of the year. Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle would not confirm the report, but she said in an e-mail, “We are continuing to work on an agreement with Republicans and hope to confirm as many of the President’s nominations as possible before the end of the year.”

Reid referenced his talks with McConnell during a floor appearance Monday and suggested more names will come out in the next few days.

“I’m working with the Republican leader on nominations. We made little progress on that,” Reid said Monday morning. “I hope to do better.”

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