Six years ago, Senate Republicans were on the verge of abolishing the filibuster for judicial nominations. Today, they’re close to blocking their first judge.
Goodwin Liu, a nominee for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has come under sustained attack from a broad spectrum of Republicans, who argue he has an activist judicial philosophy and lacks courtroom experience. They also complain about his criticism of conservative Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
A vote to end debate, or invoke cloture, on Liu’s nomination is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture, or beat back a filibuster.
“This is a very bad nominee,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday on the “Laura Ingraham Show.” “He testified against both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito in the most strident of terms. … I’m optimistic that we will be able to defeat the nomination.”
Several members of the “gang of 14” Senators who kept the judicial filibuster alive under a deal if Senators found “extraordinary” circumstances to block a judge, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have announced their plans to vote to filibuster the nomination. Some moderates including Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are also opposed.
Republicans blamed Democrats for creating the precedent of blocking court nominees and said they have only themselves to blame.
“They imposed that change on the Senate,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said, referencing the fight over judicial nominations in 2005 that led to several filibusters of President George W. Bush’s nominees. Liu exhibited the characteristics of a lawmaker, not a judge, Sessions said.
Democrats vigorously defended Liu as a highly qualified nominee with the blessing of the American Bar Association and a distinguished career as a law professor.
And liberal advocacy group People for the American Way sent out a list of quotes from Republicans from 2005 declaring that it was unconstitutional not to allow up-or-down votes on judicial nominees.
The bipartisan gang of 14 blocked then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) from invoking the “constitutional option” or “nuclear option,” which would have forced a Senate rules change to bar filibusters of judicial nominees. After that group established its “extraordinary” circumstances rule, several nominees whom Democrats had been filibustering were confirmed.