WASHINGTON – With time quickly running out, Senate Democrats are planning to ratchet up their pressure on Republicans to hold confirmation votes on President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, including Edward Stanton III of Memphis.
The Senate returns to work on Tuesday after a seven-week break. Democrats are expected to move swiftly to demand votes on the stalled nominees and keep up the pressure all through September.
“There is absolutely no reason why all of these judges should not be confirmed, other than sheer obstructionism,” said Glenn Sugameli, a Washington attorney and founder of the nonprofit group Judging the Environment, which closely tracks judicial nominations.
Stanton, the U.S. attorney for Tennessee’s Western District, has waited almost a year for a floor vote on his nomination.
Obama nominated him to fill a Western District vacancy in May 2015. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously last October to send his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote. Since then, he’s been trapped in a standoff between Senate Democrats and Republicans.
But this fight is about politics, not about Stanton or his fitness for the job.
No one questions his qualifications. He’s backed by the state’s two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. He’s almost certain to be confirmed, if the GOP ever agrees to give him a vote.
Stanton isn’t the only nominee in limbo. Twenty-seven await votes on the Senate floor, and, like Stanton, 18 would fill seats on federal district courts where cases are first heard
Democrats have argued for months that Republicans are dragging their feet on Obama’s nominees, hoping to run out the clock so judgeships can be filled by the next president. A report last fall by the liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice charged that the pace of judicial nominees confirmed under the GOP-controlled Senate is the slowest in 60 years.
Republicans say that’s nonsense and note that the Senate has confirmed 329 of Obama’s judicial nominees, compared to the 312 confirmed at the same point in George W. Bush’s presidency.
But most of Obama’s nominees were confirmed when the Senate was under Democratic control. Republicans have confirmed just 22 judicial nominees since they returned to power in January 2015.
What’s more, Obama has faced more vacancies than Bush, which is why his overall number of confirmations is slightly higher, Sugameli said.
Whenever the next round of confirmation votes occurs, Stanton should be first in line, assuming nominees are considered in the order in which they were sent to the floor.
It’s possible some nominees, including Stanton, could get a vote in September, said Carl Tobais, a University of Richmond School of Law professor who closely follows the judicial nominations process.
“If it happens, I think he will clearly be confirmed,” Tobias said.
It’s also possible judicial nominees will put on the back burner because of other issues, such as Zika funding and the federal budget, that need to be dealt with quickly.
If Stanton isn’t confirmed in September, he’ll probably have to wait until after the November election because the Senate will be in recess almost all of October.
A post-election session would leave little time for senators to confirm all of Obama’s judicial nominees before the end of the year. But Stanton’s position at the front of the line dramatically improves his odds of winning confirmation, Tobias said.
“It would take 10 minutes on the floor to confirm Stanton,” he said. “There doesn’t need to be a lot of debate. There’s nothing to debate.”
Michael Collins is The Jackson Sun’s Washington correspondent. His weekly Tennessee in D.C. column highlights Volunteer State lawmakers, causes and connections. Contact him at 703-854-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.