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Outside editorial: A judicial breakthrough

Posted: March 21, 2012 - 12:00am

The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

Delays in the confirmation of federal judges aren’t uppermost in Americans’ minds when they complain about partisan dysfunction in Congress. But the determination of Senate Republicans to delay President Obama’s judicial nominees — even those who have won bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee — is emblematic of the polarization that also has sabotaged efforts of the two parties to work together on numerous other fronts. And the delays are objectionable in themselves: They deprive the courts of needed personnel, slow the administration of justice and deter well-qualified candidates from agreeing to be considered for the bench.

So it’s a hopeful sign that Republicans have agreed to vote on 14 judicial nominations by May 7. (One of the nominees, Los Angeles lawyer Michael Walter Fitzgerald, was confirmed Thursday for the U.S. District Court for Central California.) It would be heartening to report that the Republicans agreed to the votes because they repented of the obstructionism of some of their members, but in fact their agreement followed a power play by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who filed cloture motions to try to force votes on 17 nominations.

Rather irrelevantly, Republicans had complained that Reid hadn’t made judicial confirmations a priority. Now he has. Republicans also have faulted the Obama administration for being slow to fill vacancies on district and appeals courts. That is a fair criticism. There are 81 vacancies but only 39 pending nominees (including two for future vacancies). But it is Republicans who have withheld the unanimous consent necessary for nominations already approved by the Judiciary Committee to move forward expeditiously and without prolonged debate.

The White House complains that the Senate has taken four to five times as long to confirm Obama’s nominees as it did to approve George W. Bush’s. Nevertheless, several of Bush’s nominations were delayed or derailed by Senate Democrats, including eminently qualified appeals court nominees whom they feared might be potential Republican appointees to the Supreme Court. Controversial or not, every judicial nominee deserves serious consideration by the Senate and an expeditious up-or-down vote — and no more partisan games.

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