Reid files cloture on 17 judicial nominations

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 13, 2012, 2:25pm





WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday filed cloture on 17 judicial nominations, including West Virginia Judge Gina Groh's.

Groh, who currently serves on the state's Twenty-Third Judicial Circuit, was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in May to fill the vacancy left by the 2006 death of Judge Craig Broadwater.

In October, her nomination was reported out of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote.

Considered "well-qualified" and "non-controversial," Groh has been waiting nearly five months to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Senate Democrats say the first cloture vote -- most likely Groh -- could occur one hour after the Senate convenes on Wednesday.

Reid, in opening remarks to the Senate floor Monday, pointed out that 11 of the 17 are nominees from judicial emergency states.

"The kind of qualified consensus nominees that in years past would have been confirmed in days or weeks now languish for months and months with no action," the senior senator from Nevada said.

"There are judges on this list that go back to November of last year. Not because we couldn't have done it. These could be confirmed in a matter of minutes. The votes should be routine. They shouldn't be a fight that delays action on important jobs measures."

He continued, "Creating jobs is the Senate's No. 1 priority. Republican obstructionism is the only thing standing in the way of moving forward with additional work to get our economy back on track. Unfortunately, Republicans have forced our hand. What else can we do?"

In an effort to further move along the 17 nominations, Reid asked Tuesday morning that the Senate proceed to executive session and vote on their confirmations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to Reid's request.

Carl Tobias, the Williams Professor of Law at University of Richmond's law school and a keen observer of the judicial nomination process, said Tuesday it's still unclear whether Groh, and the 16 other nominees, will get a vote this week.

"The cloture vote just means they would agree to go forward," he explained, adding that it is a procedural vote and has nothing to do with qualifications. "Usually, after that, they'll have a merit vote."

However, any senator can demand that each nomination be debated for 30 hours before the final, or merit, vote can be taken, Tobias noted.

That means the 17 nominations could eat up weeks of Senate floor time before they even get a vote.

But Tobias said such a situation is "extremely rare."

"I'm not sure if there's ever been a successful filibuster of a district nominee," he said.

"Of course, there are senators -- like Sen. (Mike) Lee from Utah and others -- who are saying they will not vote for cloture on principle, because of Obama's recess appointments."

Some GOP senators are still fuming over the president's decision in January to make a controversial recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to the post of director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The CFPB was created by the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul and is tasked with regulating consumer financial products.

Democrats, including Obama, argued Republicans were "stonewalling" Cordray's nomination.

So, Obama went ahead and appointed Cordray. In turn, some Republican senators have threatened to hold up Obama's nominations.

"I think it's unclear exactly what will happen this week, but I'm still optimistic that Groh will get a vote soon," Tobias said.

"The only reason she wouldn't is because she's the point person, the first one up. She's simply caught in the middle of all of this."

However, the law professor said he expects West Virginia's two U.S. senators, Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, to take the floor Wednesday to speak strongly on her behalf.

But what does all of this mean for West Virginia attorney Stephanie Thacker?

Thacker was nominated by Obama in September to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Thacker would replace Judge M. Blane Michael, who died earlier this year. Michael had held the position since 1993.

The Senate Judiciary Committee in November approved Thacker's nomination to the federal appeals court.

However, like Groh, she has waited several months to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Tobias, who has said Thacker could get a vote this month, noted that appellate nominees have been treated differently than district nominees.

"There's always more scrutiny with appellate nominees," he said.

"And Reid hasn't decided what to do yet about the appellate nominees. At least we know he is going to try to move these nominees first. He could do the same with appellate nominees, but we just don't know."

He added, "It really depends on these 17. Are they going to move quickly or not? Are they going to vote for cloture on each one? Are they going to have 30 hours of debate on each one?"

The GOP, Tobias said, may decide it's going to vote for cloture after all. "But it's hard to know. After Wednesday, things should be clearer."

For a full list of those nominations up for cloture votes, click here.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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