While President Obama was wrestling Richard Cordray's nomination from the graveyard of filibustered nominees, Senate Republicans continued to choose Wall Street over Main Street -- this time blocking judges from hearing the people's claims in courtrooms across America. Now that Mr. Cordray's appointment is complete, it is time for Senate Republicans to choose between us and the 1 percent when it comes to the nation's courts.
In December, the Senate recessed without confirming any of the 21 judicial nominees awaiting a vote, including 19 with strong bipartisan support. When the Senate returns later this month, 1 out of every 10 federal judgeships will be vacant, leaving more than half of all Americans living in jurisdictions ill-equipped to handle the nation's legal business. Yet, Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Republicans, in retaliation for the president's attempts at meaningful consumer protection, may refuse to confirm any additional nominees in the year remaining in his presidency -- leaving Americans high and dry.
At the end of the last session, Sen. McConnell blocked Democratic efforts to fill the court vacancies after the White House refused to provide him with assurances that there would be no recess appointments -- something fully within the president's constitutional powers -- during the holiday break. One particular potential recess appointment was on Senator McConnell's mind: Richard Cordray set to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, correctly defined the Bureau as being "born out of the failure by prudential regulators to hold financial companies accountable for complying with consumer protection laws."
Senate Republicans, unhappy with the breadth of "unchecked" authority the bureau could exercise over banks and other financial institutions, were determined to smother this new agency in the crib. They attempted to prevent President Obama from giving Mr. Cordray any opportunity to begin regulating the banking industry through the CFPB as intended by the legislation that created it. In taking this action, conservatives chose to protect those with power and money over making government work for everyday Americans.
President Obama, in a bipartisan peace offering, has worked closely with senators from both sides of the aisle to identify and nominate qualified nominees. The majority of the 21 nominees blocked by Senate Republicans have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously with home state senator support. This is not a case of left-wing ideologues being blocked on principal. Rather, it is one of unprecedented obstructionism by a few Senate Republicans based on a fundamental disregard for the business of ordinary Americans.
The president of the American Bar Association, in a letter to Senate leaders, warned that high caseloads coupled with excessive vacancies "deprive... our federal courts of the capacity to deliver timely justice in civil matters and has real consequences for the financial well-being of businesses and for individual litigants whose lives are put on hold pending resolutions of their disputes."
First, Senate opponents blocked an up or down vote on Mr. Cordray's nomination, which was in Senator Shelby's words "dead on arrival." Then they held our nation's courts as collateral in a deal to try and prevent his appointment. When the White House declined to give up its best option to protect consumers in the wake of the banking crisis, the Senate Republican leadership chose to block all 21 pending judicial nominees and protect Wall Street, rather than giving our nation's embattled courts the resources they need to conduct the business of the 99 percent. Now Republicans are calling for retaliation, indifferent to the needs of all Americans.
The battle over Mr. Cordray's nomination is over. It is time for Senate Republicans to take up the business of the nation's courts and address the nearly 200 million Americans living in jurisdictions with courts unable to function as designed.