WASHINGTON ― The level of obstruction in the Senate hit a new level of absurdity Wednesday, as a Democratic effort to confirm a federal judge with strong support from GOP senators and who unanimously cleared the Judiciary Committee was denied a vote.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) went onto the Senate floor and asked that senators take up and confirm Waverly Crenshaw, a Tennessee district court nominee backed by GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. She also asked for a vote on one her judicial nominees, Paula Xinis. Both are next in line for votes, based on the order in which nominees reach the floor.
It only takes one senator to object to the so-called unanimous consent request that Mikulski made, and that senator was Republican John Cornyn (Texas). He said decisions about voting to confirm judges should be left to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“If every senator could come down here and cherry-pick different nominations from the calendar and ask consent that we move to executive session and consider those ... it would result in some chaos,” Cornyn said.
It’s true that McConnell sets the Senate calendar. And the reality is that he’s got judicial nominations on lockdown because Republicans don’t want to let President Barack Obama get any more judges confirmed, whether it’s for the Supreme Court or other federal courts. But politics aside, some senators have courts in their states that are so understaffed and overwhelmed they’re barely keeping up with caseloads, so they really want to get their nominees through.
Such is the case with Crenshaw.
He would fill a seat on the Middle District of Tennessee that been vacant for 399 days and has become a judicial emergency, which means judges there are juggling 600 cases each or between 430 and 600 cases for more than 18 months. Crenshaw has been waiting for a confirmation vote since July 2015, but McConnell hasn’t scheduled it.
Alexander and Corker are eager to get Crenshaw through. They also have another district court nominee, Edward Stanton, who’s been waiting for a confirmation vote since October.
“I’ve urged Sen. McConnell first to confirm Waverly Crenshaw,” Alexander told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “He’s well-qualified, I support him, and in the line of district judges, he’s up toward the front.”
A Corker spokeswoman said he, too, “remains supportive of Mr. Crenshaw and Mr. Stanton.” She noted that Corker doesn’t control the floor schedule, though. McConnell does.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said he didn’t have any news on when Crenshaw, or any other nominee, may get a vote.
There are currently 17 judicial nominees ready for a confirmation vote. None of of them have been scheduled.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the situation is baffling.
“There is absolutely no legitimate reason that judicial nominees praised by Republican Senators should be blocked by the Republican leadership,” he said.