ABOVE PHOTO: Caitlin Halligan.
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
When then President George W. Bush submitted the names of his judicial court nominee picks it took the Senate on average 18 days to take a vote on his picks. When now President Obama submits the names of his judicial court picks it takes 132 days on average to get a Senate vote on them. There’s only reason for the more than 7 times longer time frame it takes for Obama’s picks to come to vote than it took for Bush’s. The GOP simply doesn’t want Obama’s picks to become judges. The GOP’s torpedo of Obama’s court picks has resulted in the shameful fact that he’s had fewer of his judicial picks confirmed then any first term president in the last quarter century. GOP senators drag their feet, refuse to vote, or send word back that an Obama nominee is DOA when submitted.
The most recent example of this is former New York Solicitor General Caitlin Halligan. Obama nominated her multiple times for a judgeship on the D.C. Court of Appeals. GOP senators killed her confirmation simply because the NRA found her objectionable. Her offense was that she was a principal in a lawsuit in New York against gun manufacturers. Obama threw in the towel and withdrew her name. The prime reason that Halligan’s failed nomination got much public and media attention was because of the NRA’s role in scuttling her confirmation and GOP House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brazenly admitted that was a big reason for the GOP’s rejecting her.
The GOP sends two messages in its boycott of Obama’s judicial court nominees. The first is that it will continue its full throated campaign to obstruct, impugn, and frustrate Obama’s policy initiatives. This importantly includes hitting at one of his more vulnerable and politically sensitive points, and that’s his judicial appointees. The other message is that Obama’s court appointees potentially represent a direct threat to the GOP’s three decade long effort to pack the federal judiciary from the Supreme Court to federal circuit courts with conservative, strict constructionist judges. The strategy has worked marvelously. The D.C. Court of Appeals, that Halligan was rejected for a spot on, has five senior judges appointed by Reagan or George H.W. Bush, and four judges appointed by George Bush that are still hearing cases.
Conservative judges have shown they can obstruct or torpedo Obama administration policies with their anti-environmental, anti-gun control, and pro-corporate rulings. The topper is the Supreme Court where the five conservative judges appointed by the Bushs have been the most blatant, conservative activist judges in recent court history.
GOP Senate leaders bristle at the charge that they are deliberately subverting Obama’s court picks. They claim that Obama has foot dragged, or worse, simply stopped sending names to the Senate for confirmation. The GOP’s attempt to shift blame for the judicial stall is totally disingenuous because their stall tactic is not new. The damaging obstructionism began the instant Obama took office in 2009. The GOP laid down the gauntlet when Obama nominated Goodwin Liu to the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. There was much speculation that Liu if confirmed could be in a plum spot down the line for nomination to the Supreme Court. That prospect raised the stakes even higher. GOP Senate leaders dredged out the stock arguments that he was too liberal, even “left wing,” too empathetic to victims, and too activist. It sat on the Liu nomination for months with no action. In the floor vote, every GOP senator voted against his confirmation. Obama needed 60 votes for the Liu confirmation.
The GOP’s other fall back argument is that the Democrats used the same tactics against W. Bush to stall or kill his nominees. In some cases, that was true, and the time frame for getting Bush’s nominees approved did lengthen. But Bush got the majority of his appointees confirmed, and as for the time frame both the GOP and the Democrats were to blame for that since both engaged in a tit for tat game of one upsmanship to stall nominees considered the most politically objectionable. But again most were eventually confirmed.
This has hardly been true with Obama’s nominees who in almost all cases haven’t gotten to first base with GOP senators. The GOP’s obstructionism has virtually forced Obama to leave dozens of judicial court positions vacant. It’s almost why bother to put names up for confirmation if you know that the GOP won’t even consider them. This makes it even more difficult to get qualified individuals to fill the posts since many know that they must wait in limbo before being considered, if at all. The collateral damage is enormous. One in 10 federal district and court judgeships is now vacant, and that number continues to grow. This translates out to massive delays and expense in hearing court cases.
Obama has pleaded with GOP senators to end their malicious obstructionism of his nominees. Judging from the Halligan debacle and the pile up of empty seats on federal benches, that plea like so many others of his to the GOP for cooperation falls on deaf ears.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new ebook is How the NRA Terrorizes Congress—The NRA’s Subversion of the Gun Control Debate (Amazon). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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