Rule change advances in Senate, will help Trump fill as many judicial vacancies as possible by November 2018 midterms
Senate Rules Committee advances measure to drastically cut floor debate time on nominees, Democrats’ most effective stall tactic.
At one level, Senate Republicans are doing a good job at moving Trump judicial nominees through the committee and confirmation process.
The Senate just confirmed the 15th nominee to a Court of Appeals, Kyle Duncan, about whom Democrats are apoplectic:
A lawyer who led the fight against Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, eventually winning the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court, won confirmation by the Senate on Tuesday to a federal appeals court.
Senators voted 50-47 to confirm Stuart Kyle Duncan to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Only one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, broke with his party to support Mr. Duncan.
Other Democrats voiced opposition to Mr. Duncan as an “unfit ideologue” on abortion and contraception. They also said his defense of state laws requiring photo-ID to vote, among other voting changes, amounted to voter suppression for minorities.
While 15 Court of Appeals judges is historically impressive, there remain a frustratingly large number of nominees who are being stonewalled by Democrats slow-walking confirmation floor votes:
Chuck Grassley has steadily moved judicial nominees through the Judiciary Committee, and has signaled willingness not to allow “blue slip” courtesies to turn into de facto filibusters. But even once nominees get through Committee, there is a further backlog whereby Democrats insist on a full 30 hours of debate for each nominee. So the pipeline gets clogged by Democrats first at the Judiciary Committee, and then by extended floor debate time.
This slow-walking has serious implications for Trump’s ability to act on the historic opportunity presented him to change the composition of the judiciary, which depends on Republicans holding the Senate. We have explored this problem many times before, including this post last November, Trump judicial confirmations moving along, but not fast enough:
While it’s unlikely, given the seats up for election, that Republicans will lose the Senate, it’s not impossible. If the Senate is lost in 2018, then so is the opportunity handed Trump to reshape the judiciary. So time is of the essence.
Every single vacant seat should be filled as quickly as possible. Some progress is not good enough. Grassley and McConnell need to clear all roadblocks, and Trump needs to fill the pipeline.
Politico reports that Mitch McConnell is sensitive to this point about confirming every nominee before November 2018:
Mitch McConnell is making a last dash to stock the judiciary with conservatives this year as a hedge against the chance that Republicans lose the Senate in November.
The GOP may have only a few more months of unified control of Washington to repeal Obamacare or enact President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan. But the Senate majority leader is taking a longer view — and confirming as many conservative judges as possible to lifetime appointments….
Trump has already nominated 69 judges, but there are 149 total vacancies. GOP leaders say McConnell is intent on filling as many as he can this year, in part out of concern that Democrats take back the Senate and exact retribution on McConnell and Trump for changing the face of the courts.
“You have to be realistic about it and go into it with an expectation that [losing the Senate] is a possibility. And for that reason, I think it’s important that we move judiciously to get done as many as we can,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 GOP leader.
We reported last December that a Proposed Senate rule change may speed through Trump nominees by limiting floor debate time.
That proposal just passed the Senate Rules Committee:
Looking to speed the confirmation process for a backlog of President Trump’s appointments, Senate Republicans on Wednesday advanced a measure to cut down on floor debate for certain executive branch and judicial nominees.
Republicans said Democrats forced their hand on the issue by making the Senate devote too much floor time over the past year to clearing procedural hurdles on even non-controversial and lower-level nominees.
“Pointless wasting time, even when we know what the outcome is going to be, is what we’re talking about here today,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The change, pushed by Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, passed the Senate rules committee in a party-line vote, 10-9.
The change would cut the maximum debate time for non-Cabinet executive branch nominees from 30 hours to eight, and for district court nominees from 30 hours to two.
Carrie Severino from the Judicial Crisis Network provides this data at National Review:
Current and known future vacancies: 180
Courts of Appeals: 27
District/Specialty Courts*: 153
Pending nominees for current and known future vacancies: 72
Courts of Appeals: 12
District/Specialty Courts: 60
* Includes the Court of Federal Claims and the International Trade Court
There are 35 judicial nominees currently awaiting floor votes.
Limiting floor debate time will certainly speed the process, but Trump also needs to speed up the start of the pipeline, nominations.
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