McConnell’s push on judges gives GOP something to tout in November

But the focused effort to fill court vacancies with conservative appointments hasn’t been without controversy. The U.S. Court of Appeals is the last stop before a case reaches a Supreme Court and those nominations have become highly partisan.

Only three judges passed with significant support:

  • Elizabeth Branch of Georgia was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit with the support of 73 senators.
  • Ralph Erickson of North Dakota was confirmed to the Eighth Circuit 95-1.
  • Christopher Newsom of Alabama passed 66-31 for the Eleventh Circuit.

Three nominees have withdrawn because of a lack of qualifications and their inability to gain enough support of enough Republicans to pass through the Senate.

McConnell’s push on judges gives GOP something to tout in November
McConnell’s push on judges gives GOP something to tout in November

The other twelve passed on largely partisan basis, with no Democrats voting for three of the nominees — all criticized by Democrats on issues ranging from their position on abortion, LGBTQ issues and civil rights as well as being labeled by the American Bar Association as unqualified. They are:

  • Don Willett of Texas for the Fifth Circuit
  • Steven Grasz of Nebraska for the Eighth Circuit
  • John Bush of Kentucky for the Sixth Circuit.

Republicans have had success with judicial nominees in large part because of a rule change in 2013 when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, frustrated with the inability to pass President Obama’s nominees, changed the threshold to move forward on judges from 60 votes to 51.

“That’s one thing we can do with 51 votes and it’s gonna last long beyond the current administration,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and a member of leadership, said of prioritizing judges.

Democrats complain that Republicans are breaking precedent, allowing nominations to move forward even without the consent from both of the home state senators of the nominee.

One of the six nominees set to be brought up next week, Michael Brennan of Wisconsin for the Seventh Circuit, will be brought before the full Senate despite the opposition of of Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.

“I’m actually very worried right now,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said. “In this case, it just means the speed at which they’re ramming these judges through — we’re seeing people that are less qualified, more extreme and I think this is problematic for the short term and the long term.”

And Republicans are looking to make the process even easier to confirm more judges, calling Democrats obstructionists for forcing the full 30 hours of time to pass before a vote. They are now attempting to change the Senate rules to speed up the confirmation by limiting the amount of debate time to two to eight hours.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says Republicans can’t assert their success of judicial confirmations and also complain about obstruction simultaneously.

“Well, I say to my Republican friends and the president, you can’t have it both ways — on the one hand, ‘historic obstruction,’ and on the other, a ‘record’ pace of confirmations that you brag to your base about,” Schumer said. “Can’t have it both ways.”

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