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Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe Won’t Abide By ‘Thurmond Rule’

Senate GOP leaders might be trying to enforce a partisan blockade of President Barack Obama’s circuit court nominees, but the message apparently hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

Maine’s GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins told the Falmouth, Maine, Forecaster newspaper today that they won’t abide by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) edict that bipartisan cooperation on circuit court judges is done for the year — at least when it comes to Obama’s pick of William Kayatta Jr. for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

While traditionally independent minded lawmakers, Collins and Snowe have proven to be reliable soldiers for McConnell over the past two years as the Senate has plunged into a bitter partisan era.

But when it comes to Obama’s nomination of their home state lawyer, Collins and Snowe are, at least for now, returning to their bipartisan roots.

“It simply isn’t fair that Bill, who would be a superb judge, now appears to be caught up in election-year politics. I have urged my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to give Bill the direct vote by the full Senate that he deserves,” Collins told the paper.

Snowe also said she would also continue to work have Kayatta’s nomination considered in a statement to the paper.

“I have strongly supported his nomination from day one and will continue to work with the bipartisan Senate leadership in an effort bring his nomination to the floor,” Snowe said in the statement.

On Wednesday, McConnell informed his fellow Republicans that he was invoking the  “Thurmond Rule.” Named after the late South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, the informal rule holds that within six months of a presidential election the opposition party can block circuit court and Supreme Court nominations. Cooperation on district court judges has typically ended in September before an election.

Although Judiciary Committee Republicans, including ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), and partisan-minded Republicans have enthusiastically embraced McConnell’s decision, it would mean a handful of nominees with strong Republican support could be doomed.

In addition to Kayatta, Obama’s pick of Robert Bacharach for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has won the backing of Oklahoma GOP Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, as has Patty Shwartz – one of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) allies – for the 3rd Circuit.

It remains unclear whether enough of McConnell’s Members will be willing to defy leadership and end up backing Democratic efforts to push through these and other nominees.

While Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and his team have at times struggled to control the GOP Conference in the House, McConnell has had no such difficulties. Indeed, starting with the divisive health care fight, McConnell has been particularly effective in enforcing discipline, which makes Collins’ and Snowe’s decision to step out now all the more remarkable.

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