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Editorial: Approve judicial nominees

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Earlier this month, in an aggressive political move, President Obama nominated three high-profile lawyers to fill the vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The president’s decision drew the ire of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who decried Obama’s action as a court-packing scheme in the spirit of FDR in a June 3 news release.

Grassley’s analysis is little more than partisan blustering. Unlike the attempted 1937court-packing power grab by Roosevelt, Obama is not seeking to create new seats on the Court of Appeals to tilt the court’s partisan balance in his favor. Obama seeks only to fill judicial vacancies in accordance with his Constitutional job description.

The president’s nominees should be approved.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington is composed of 11 full-time judges and six senior judges, who usually handle reduced caseloads. Currently, three of 11 full-time seats are open. One seat, previously held by current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, has been vacant since 2005.

Of the eight full-time justices currently serving, four were appointed by Democratic presidents, and the other four were nominated by Republican President George H.W. Bush. Of the six senior judges, however, five were appointed by Republicans, tilting the court’s balance toward conservatism.

The ideological makeup of this particular court is important because it hears a number of cases about the federal government. In recent years, the court has ruled against and effectively nullified a number of federal regulations, for example.

Grassley has made a great fuss over the president’s appointments because he is interested in maintaining the court’s conservative majority. So interested, in fact, that he proposed legislation in April that would permanently eliminate three seats from the D.C. Court of Appeals altogether.

Grassley argues that the court’s relatively low caseload requires such a reduction in seats, but an April report from the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States, a group led by Roberts, recommended keeping the number of judges on the D.C. court at 11.

The actions and the rhetoric of Grassley and the rest of his Senate partisans smack ultimately of obstructionism. The Senate Republicans are no strangers to obstructionism with respect to judicial nominees.

During the Obama administration, the success rate and speed of judicial nominations, according to a May report from the Congressional Research Service, has been quite low. Among the five most recent presidents, Obama ranks at or near the bottom in terms of nominees confirmed, percentage of nominees confirmed, and the average wait for judicial nominees.

The sluggish pace of judicial confirmation has left 79 positions on federal courts vacant and 27 nominees in limbo.

The refusal of the Senate Republicans to move forward on judicial confirmations amounts to deliberate deprivation of resources to an entire branch of the federal government. In nominating three highly qualified judges, Obama was certainly trying to increase his party’s influence on the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. but, more importantly, he was doing his job.

The Senate should not be a rubber stamp for the president’s judicial nominees, but neither should it be an impassable obstacle. Grassley and the Senate Republicans should approve Obama’s nominees to the Court of Appeals in D.C.


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