The 111th Congress wrapped up its business last night, and a last-minute flurry of action resulted in some important victories for the administration and its allies, especially the long-overdue repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Discrimination and hate should never be enshrined in our laws and it is heartening to see our nation move one step closer to the day when all Americans are treated fairly and equally.
But in spite of this wonderful victory, and the passage of other important legislation, one very important thing was left undone as a result of unrelenting Republican obstruction. Nineteen federal judicial nominees were left unconfirmed at the end of the session, just half of the number waiting on the Senate floor for a final yes-or-no vote.
Three circuit court and 16 district court nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee were prevented from receiving votes, including even the most noncontroversial individuals, many of whom are actually supported by Republican Senators. Here is the tragic fact: as a result of unprecedented Republican political gamesmanship, President Obama ends the first half of his first term with a smaller percentage of his nominees confirmed than any previous president.
Our federal courts are in crisis. The administrative office of the U.S. courts has identified 44 "judicial emergencies," where there aren't enough judges to hear the cases brought to them by the American people. Even the top judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, led by Chief Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, wrote a letter to the Senate complaining about the "desperate need for judges."
We know what needs to be done. The whole process will begin again in January in the new Congress and we urge the president to re-nominate all those who were left unconfirmed, including superb, widely respected nominees like Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen, who were the special targets of Republicans. Of course the vast majority of the nominees they blocked at the end of the session, and the dozens they had obstructed over the past two years, are not controversial at all. Obstruction for obstruction's sake is the hallmark of the Republican leadership. That has to stop.
The appointment of judges is one of the most important and long-lasting legacies of any president, and should be one of President Obama's most urgent goals, particularly when more than one out in ten judgeships are vacant. The president's great success with the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan shows what can be done when the nominations process is respected in the Senate and obstructionist tactics are set aside.
In the next session of Congress, confirming this administration's judicial nominees should be one of the highest priorities for the Democratic leadership in the Senate. The legislative successes of the past few days show what can be done when our leaders and everyday Americans unite to fight with determination and skill against obstructionist tactics and indiscriminate opposition to important goals. We hope that same energy is applied to judicial nominations in the 112th Congress to ensure that the endless abuse of Senate procedures is not repeated and that all vacancies in the federal judiciary are filled.
Follow Nan Aron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NanAron