01/13/2014 05:45 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Jeff Flake No Longer Biggest Obstacle To Filling 'Judicial Emergencies' In His Own State [UPDATE]


WASHINGTON -- When it comes to states in dire need of filling empty judgeships, Arizona tops the list: It has six vacancies on one federal court, all of which have been deemed "judicial emergencies" given the excessive caseloads strangling the court's ability to function.

The good news is that the White House submitted six nominees to fill those vacant slots, none of whom appear to be controversial and five of whom have gotten the nod from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to proceed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But until late Monday, Arizona's other senator, Republican Jeff Flake, hadn't submitted any of his "blue slips" to the committee, meaning none could move forward.

The blue-slip rule is more of a courtesy than a hard rule. Honored at the discretion of the chairman, it allows a home-state senator to advance or hold up a nominee. But some Republican senators, including Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Richard Burr (N.C.), have been using it to unilaterally block nominees, sometimes for years on end.

After Democrats did away with Senate filibuster rules for nominees in December, meaning nominees now only require 51 votes instead of 60 to proceed, the committee's blue-slip process has become one of the Republicans' best remaining tools for stalling President Barack Obama's nominees.

In the case of Arizona, all six of the nominees would fill empty seats on the same court: the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The situation at this court is so bad that it was recently singled out by the American Bar Association for its "dramatically worse" caseload compared to other courts. Currently, judges at this court have caseloads that exceed 700 civil and criminal filings.

The puzzling piece of Flake's obstruction is that for nearly a year he gave no reason why he wouldn't allow the nominees to move forward. In December, though, Flake told The Arizona Republic that he was holding onto his blue slips for five nominees until the White House put forward the sixth nominee.

Meanwhile, it's been almost a year since Flake said he was "not sitting on" his state's longest delayed judicial nominee, Rosemary Marquez. She's been waiting for more than two years just to get a hearing for filling a seat that's been vacant for 1,260 days.

McCain hasn't exactly been leading the charge on confirming nominees either; he just submitted his blue slips in late November for Marquez and four of the other nominees he praised in September. But he did finally submit them. A McCain spokesman noted there's "no hold up" on the sixth nominee either, citing "due diligence" since the White House just submitted that nominee, James Soto, at the start of the year.

UPDATE: 6:20 p.m. -- A half-hour after HuffPost reported that Flake hadn't submitted any of his blue slips, a committee aide updated us that Flake had just filed them for Marquez and the same four nominees as McCain. HuffPost would like to take credit for forcing Flake's hand, but alas, the timing appears unrelated.



Senate Polarization, 1989-2013