Escalating a war of words over President Obama’s judicial nominations, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blasted Senate Republicans Tuesday for hanging judicial nominees out to dry and dredged up some old dirty laundry from the Clinton administration.
“Senate Republicans have delayed and obstructed nominees chosen after consultation with Republican home state senators,” Leahy said in a floor speech. “The obstruction and delay is part of a partisan pattern. Even when they cannot say ‘no,’ Republicans nonetheless demand that the Senate go slow.”
To date, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved 29 of Obama’s judicial picks. Thirteen of those are currently pending before the Senate.
According to Leahy, Republican senators have refused to assent to time agreements, which would limit the amount of debate on a nomination. Without a time agreement, the Senate must vote to invoke cloture, a procedure that shuts off all debate and requires 60 votes, in order to move to legislation or a nomination. Even with cloture, the process is time-consuming, and can eat up the better part of a week, if Republicans insist on using all 30 hours of post-cloture debate time.
Republicans maintain they are not blocking nominations. In a January floor speech on the nomination of 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Beverly Martin, the Judiciary panel’s ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, suggested that Leahy had purposefully delayed a vote on the non-controversial nominee so that Republicans would get the blame for slowing down the confirmation process.
“Republicans have been and are ready and willing to proceed to a roll call vote on her nomination for months but, for whatever reason, our Democratic colleagues, the leadership, would not take yes for an answer,” Sessions said.
“Some of my Democratic colleagues have said they want to confirm judicial nominees at the same pace the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed President Bush’s nominees,” he continued. “I think my colleagues should be careful what they wish for, because President Obama’s nominees have fared far better than President Bush’s.”
On Tuesday, Leahy rejected that insinuation and noted that during the Clinton administration, Republicans used a little-known committee procedure, blue slips, to secretly kill dozens of President Bill Clinton’s judicial nominees.
Blue Slips refer to a Judiciary Committee policy, whereby nominees for appellate and district courts do not advance without the approval of both home state senators. The practice is named for the color of the paper that senators use to signal their approval or disapproval of nominees. As a result, a nominee’s home-state senator can slow down or effectively kill a nomination simply by not returning the form.
When Leahy became chairman of the committee in 2001, he changed the policy on blue slips to make them public.
“Republicans’ suggestion that Democrats are delaying in their consent to advance these nominations is also more than ironic since they have never acknowledged, nor accepted, responsibility for pocket filibustering more than 60 of President Clinton’s judicial nominees,” Leahy said Tuesday. “When I became chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I made Senators’ consent forms, or blue slips, public for the first time. I am still waiting for Republicans to agree to make public their blue slips from 1993 through 2000.”