Last on the Senate's to-do list: judicial confirmations:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is negotiating a deal with Republican leaders to confirm a long list of President Barack Obama's judicial nominations that have idled on the Senate calendar for months, sources say.
The deal could involve as many as 19 of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees who the GOP consider non-controversial, but would leave out a shorter list of more liberal nominees Republicans consider objectionable — setting up another potential disappointment for liberal activists, who have spent months pushing for their confirmation.
With a huge number of vacancies on the nation's lower courts, some judges are better than none, but it doesn't hurt to note that this is a bad deal. As of last week, there were 38 judicial nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and waiting for a floor vote. Twenty-nine of those nominees left Judiciary without opposition, and at least three came with significant bipartisan support. Given the huge number of lower-court vacancies and this level of support, it's ridiculous that Reid is poised to accept a deal that confirms half of the nominees.
Of course, if there's anyone to blame, it's Reid for his inaction and Obama for his unconcern with the judicial nomination process. At any point during the last two years, Reid could have forced a showdown with Republicans over secret holds and their obstruction of judicial confirmations. What's more, Obama could have been much more diligent about making nominations to fill the large and growing number of vacancies on the lower courts. As it stands, Obama will have to sacrifice a handful of eminently qualified nominees to get the GOP's half loaf. Rhode Island's John McConnell (opposed by the Chamber of Commerce) is off the table, as is Wisconsin Judge Louis Butler (opposed by state business interests), and Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu, who is opposed for conservative fears that he might end up on the Supreme Court.
One last point: If anything should push the administration to support filibuster reform, it's the Senate's inability to confirm judicial nominees. By allowing the Senate to hold up the confirmation process, Obama is both sacrificing an opportunity to reverse decades of Republican dominance on the nation's lower courts and jeopardizing his legislative accomplishments, as a conservative bench is much more likely to find constitutional fault with his major policies (like health-care reform, for instance). And finally, if Democrats have any interest in restoring ideological balance to the Supreme Court, they would do well to put a bit more emphasis on developing talent at the lower-court level, which requires a functioning confirmation process.
-- Jamelle Bouie