President Trump has underscored the conservative point of view for federal judges . . . but there are some who want to stop him.
Republicans see confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees as their top priority because it is sure to leave a long-lasting impact on the direction our nation goes. But those judicial nominees are at the center of a long-running feud between Senate Republicans and Democrats, leaving more than 150 vacancies in the Federal Judiciary with 66 nominees yet to be confirmed.
Two past events have proven pivotal and appear to be the basis for the battle lines:
Republicans cast blame on Democrats for changing the rules for most nominations in 2013, allowing them to override Republican opposition with 51 votes rather than 60.
Democrats cast blame on Republicans for blocking Judge Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, from getting a hearing or a vote in 2016. That move allowed Trump to fill the vacancy with a strong conservative.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led the Senate to confirm a record number of circuit court nominees during Trump’s first two years, confirmations for the district courts are lagging.
In order to overcome what they see as historic obstructionism by the Democrats, Senate Republicans are changing the rules.
The rule change vote is set for early April. Upon passage, debate time on district judges will be limited to two hours, a 94 percent drop from the 30 hours previously allowed. If necessary, Republicans vowed to invoke the “nuclear option,” a parliamentary procedure which would allow passage with no Democrat support.
Explaining the need for the rule change, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said “it would take up to 32 years if we continue the current pace and get every one of the Trump nominees completed.” It is now possible for Republicans to fill most of the district court vacancies within the next 20 months.
Democrats accuse Republicans of undermining Senate traditions by going “nuclear” to make a significant rule change (despite the fact Democrats did so in 2013) and by ignoring the “blue-slip rule.”
The blue-slip rule is a precedent upheld by Senate tradition which has historically allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return the blue-slip to the Judiciary Committee. Enforcement of the rule has varied with who the committee chairman is. Republicans have said they will honor the tradition for district court nominees, but have moved forward with several court of appeals nominees without blue-slips.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham is apparently attempting to provide some resolution to the long running feud. He has pledged to work with Democrats for a compromise with the White House on circuit court nominations and floated the idea of returning the Senate to a 60-vote requirement on judicial nominations after 2020. Discussing the issue, he expressed his desire to “do this by the golden rule” and admitted he worries “a lot about what’s coming.”