Senators strike deal to move along judicial nominees

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 16, 2012, 8:30am



WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Senate leaders, in an effort to avoid further deadlock, struck a deal this week on the confirmation of a group of judicial nominees.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to confirm 14 of 22 pending nominees by May 7, according to reports.

That would mean two to three confirmation votes could be held a week while the Senate is in session.

Reid, Nevada's senior senator, had filed cloture on 17 judicial nominations on Monday, hoping to speed up the confirmation process, but cancelled the votes after coming to an agreement with McConnell Wednesday.

Prior to the deal, nominations were held up for months -- some nominees have waited as long as four or five months to get a vote -- due to party politics.

GOP senators were still fuming over President Barack Obama'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, the president went ahead and appointed Cordray. In turn, some Republican senators threatened to hold up Obama's nominations.

The first two nominees to get a vote were West Virginia Judge Gina Groh and former federal prosecutor Michael Fitzgerald of California.

On Thursday, Groh was confirmed 95-2 to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia and Fitzgerald was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 91-6.

Lawmakers and special interest groups alike rejoiced at the two confirmations.

"I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for moving (Groh's) nomination forward for the good of the American people, and I'm hopeful this is a sign of a renewed spirit of bipartisanship in Congress," U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement Thursday.

People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group, also said it was pleased to see the two judges were confirmed, but said it took too long.

"Because of today's confirmation votes, people of West Virginia and Southern California will have a smoother path to justice as they seek their day in court. Votes like these should be the norm, not the exception," Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program, said in a statement Thursday.

"Judges Groh and Fitzgerald are both exceptionally qualified and enjoyed unanimous bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee. It is absurd that they had to wait months simply to receive an easy and overwhelming confirmation vote.

"It is even more absurd that a deal had to be cut before Senate Republicans would even consider these nominees. That qualified and uncontroversial nominees like Groh and Fitzgerald are met with months-long filibusters is proof that the Senate GOP is more interested in creating gridlock than in doing its job."

Civil rights advocate Nancy Zirkin said in press conference Thursday the Senate must continue to address the judicial vacancy crisis.

"Obstruction of judicial nominees by the Republican leadership has become a way of life in the Senate with nominees enduring endless anonymous holds and filibuster threats. Yesterday's deal was a victory for regular order," said Zirkin, who serves as executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

"While 14 judicial nominees will be confirmed in the next six weeks, there are still more than 20 waiting in committee or on the floor to be approved. These nominees deserve prompt up or down votes without any more procedural shenanigans."

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