The Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded two of President Donald Trump’s appeals court nominees to the full Senate Oct. 5. Two weeks later, it’s not yet clear when the full Senate will take up the nominations.
The nominees, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen and Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett, were tapped in May for vacancies on the 6th and 7th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, the federal circuit courts based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chicago, Ill. The pair appeared together before the Judiciary Committee on Sept. 5.
After committee Democrats used a procedural mechanism to delay the nominations, the panel voted 11-9 along party lines to advance the nominees to the Senate floor with the committee’s recommendation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office declined to tell The Daily Caller News Foundation when a confirmation vote might be scheduled.
The Larsen and Barrett nominations embody increasing conservative frustration with the Senate Republican leadership over the sluggish pace of judicial confirmations. There are currently 150 vacancies on the federal courts, according to the Judicial Conference of the United States. The White House is submitting slates of judicial nominees for these posts on a monthly basis, naming some 50 candidates thus far — but just seven have been approved, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Some of this delay is likely attributable to the logistical constraints that the Judiciary Committee has had to grapple in recent months. The panel has considered nominations for the U.S. Supreme Court, top posts at the Department of Justice and various law enforcement agencies since January. This important work inevitably commands the committee’s attention for months at a time, leaving little time for lower court nominations.
Still, right-wing court-watchers and advocacy groups are increasingly anxious about McConnell’s priorities, fearing he may squander an unprecedented opportunity to fill the federal bench with conservative jurists.
“Amy Barrett and Joan Larsen are highly accomplished women and will make excellent additions to the federal bench,” said Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation who writes frequently about judicial confirmations and the Supreme Court. “Majority Leader McConnell recently vowed to make judicial nominations a top priority—bringing these nominees up for a floor vote would be a great way to make good on his promise.”
The languid pace is particularly surprising given that the Senate Republican conference has made little progress pursuing its policy agenda. Confirming judicial nominees at a steady clip would appear to be an easy way for the GOP to notch easy and meaningful victories.
The White House declined to criticize McConnell’s leadership, instead blaming Senate Democrats for needless procedural delays.
“Senate Democrats continue to use petty political tactics to delay and obstruct the critical judicial and executive confirmation process,” an administration spokesman told TheDCNF. “In the same nine month time period, the Senate confirmed 65 percent of President Obama’s nominees, compared to 39 percent of President Trump’s to date. The President has delivered on his promise to nominate highly qualified judges, starting with Justice Gorsuch. Now, it is time to confirm the outstanding nominees because it’s what the American people deserve.”
The Judiciary Committee is currently processing several other appeals court nominees, including Greg Katsas for the D.C. Circuit, Allison Eid for the 10th Circuit, and Stephanos Bibas for the 3rd Circuit. They are not expected to clear the panel before the end of the month.
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