The U.S. District Court in San Francisco needs judges. There are currently three vacancies in the 14-judge district, and the cases are backing up. It is the responsibility of President Barack Obama to nominate replacements, and he has picked two candidates. It is the responsibility of the Senate to screen his candidates for misconduct or behavior that would disqualify them from assuming such an important post.
Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have cynically abused this responsibility, turning their constitutional role to “advise and consent” into a political ploy to scuttle Obama’s nominees, in hopes that Mitt Romney will come into office and have the opportunity to replace them with more ideologically suitable alternatives.
These senators don’t have to reject Obama’s judicial appointees outright. They just have to slow down the process with parliamentary procedures. And that’s just what they’ve done.
Right now, there are 76 vacant judicial posts — 76 judges who should be on the bench, hearing a mountain of important cases. Thirty-two of these posts have been deemed “judicial emergencies” by the federal court system, because of the backlog of cases or the length of time since the previous judge retired.
But in the past few months, Obama’s appointees have been either rejected by the Republican minority, or have had their approval process delayed. Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma. Richard Taranto of Washington, D.C. William Kayatta of Maine. Many of these appointees even have the full-throated support of Republican senators from their home states. The president of the American Bar Association recently wrote a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging him to break up this partisan logjam for the good of the country. But the Republicans’ intransigence goes on.
Last week, two Bay Area judges went to Washington to face the scrutiny of the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings. Alameda Superior Court Judge Jon Tigar and Justice Department attorney William Orrick III have been appointed by the president to fill two of the three empty positions in San Francisco’s federal court. And predictably, depressingly, Republican senators began grilling them for ideological deficiencies.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, Orrick came under particular scrutiny. Sen. Chuck Grassley demanded to know why Orrick had associated himself with the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal judicial think tank. What, exactly, was the extent of Orrick’s association? He gave a few speeches at the society’s events.
If the past few years are any indication, Orrick is in for a rough ride, and he may well never be confirmed as long as the Senate Republican minority is this obstinate. None of us can realistically expect Senate Republicans to act responsibly as long as they hold out hope that Obama will be thrown out of office this November.
But if the president survives to govern another four years, Republican Senators must put aside these petty partisan impulses and realize that they, too, have a stake in a functioning judicial system. They must, frankly, act like the adults they purport to be.