Judicial Nominations Just Became A Much More Important Presidential Qualification

November 25th, 2013

Now that we are in the fallout of the Senate’s nuclear winter,  both sides (whether they admit it or not) are chomping at the bit about the prospect of nominating judges outside the mainstream who were unconfirmable in the past. The 60-vote threshold did not merely act as a tool of obstruction (though that was its primary purpose). It allowed those in the majority party to voice objections to judges deemed outside the mainstream, and may not be consistent with their views of the law. Now, all bets are off.

The Washington Post reports that the White House is moving to take “maximum advantage” of the change in rules.

The White House and its allies are formulating ways to take maximum advantage of this week’s change in the Senate’s filibuster rules to rapidly confirm more than 240 judicial and executive nominees awaiting approval.

Democrats hope to break a logjam in President Obama’s appointments, allowing him to push ahead with key parts of his agenda. But they also acknowledge that the political environment remains difficult, with many procedural tactics still available to Republicans intent on blocking his nominees.

There are 53 Obama judicial nominations currently moving through the Senate, 17 of which are awaiting votes on the floor. On average, Obama’s nominees waited almost 100 days longer to be confirmed than President George W. Bush’s judicial picks, according to Congressional Research Service data distributed by Senate Democrats.

Russell Wheeler, an expert on federal courts at the Brookings Institution, said that many of Obama’s 53 pending judicial nominees are considered fairly middle-of-the-road.

“I can’t look at this list and say that it’s going to make a great deal of difference, that there’s a revolution coming,” Wheeler said.

Though many of the existing nominees are middle-of-the-road, I doubt similar constraints will exist for future nominees.

(I’ve already seen friends post longingly on Facebook for a reappointment of Goodwin Liu or Dawn Johnsen).

And the same goes for the right. This beaming piece in WSJ is just dying for it to be 2017 already.

The silver lining is that the end of the nominee filibuster will work for conservatives too. The next time they hold the Senate and White House, Republicans should employ the same weapon. Democrats are pretending that they are only breaking the filibuster for lower-court nominees, not for the Supreme Court. They can dream on.

The next GOP President should line up Federalist Society alumni for judicial nominations like planes waiting to take off at O’Hare International Airport. Imagine two or three more Clarence Thomases on the High Court confirmed with 51 Senate votes. Planned Parenthood can send its regrets to Harry Reid.

Jon Adler already joked about “Judge Volokh” and “Justice Barnett.”

Going forward, a presidential candidate’s views towards appointing judges just became much, much more significant.