Friday, August 2, 2013

Nominations Update

Good news #1: The Senate processed a large batch of nominations before they left town for the month. Some ambassadors, some miscellaneous board members, but also a bunch of assistant secretaries. Fewer empty desks is good.

Good news #2: Barack Obama has cranked up the judicial nominations. Last week he sent up six;
yesterday he nominated six district court judges and three circuit court picks.

Good news #3: Along with the judicial nominations, Obama also this week sent up a slew of executive branch nominees. Fewer empty desks is good!

Bad news #1: There are still far too many vacancies without nominees, including over forty seats on the federal bench.

Bad news #2: Yes, they were busy with the executive branch nominations...but the Senate only confirmed two judges in July. They will do two more right away when they get back in September.

Bad news #3: Everyone is still ignoring my call for executive branch nomination reform: far less vetting! Which means that even if we now have simple majority confirmation, or at least least we have it as long as it lasts, it's still far too difficult to fill these spots. Again: the vetting for judges is insane, but at least plausibly justified -- no one wants a lifetime-appointment crooked judge, and those jobs are valued enough that it's unlikely the insane vetting creates any shortage of top-qualified people. But the current vetting procedures for exec branch nominations almost certainly is massively counterproductive. Among other things: I'm willing to bet that crazy over-vetting narrows the pool enough, and filters out enough perfectly good candidates, that the overall effect is to wind up with more crooks and incompetents, not fewer.


  1. I know you think the "talking filibuster" version of filibuster reform won't really help. Could it help in reverse (either for judicial nominations or legislation)? For example, let's say we're a couple days from a government shutdown this fall, and the GOP won't let the Dem bill come up for a vote. Do you think it would help for Dem's to speak in favor of it 24-7 for a few days on the Senate floor, to draw attention to the fact that they can't get a vote?

    1. Republicans have "filibustered" their own stuff in the recent past (I want to say 2006?) Brought in cots, the whole nine yards.

      It got media coverage. But, that coverage also pointed out that it was a stunt. It didn't end up moving the ball. I'm tempted to point to JBs recent column on going public: if PRESIDENTS can't get policy done by the bully pulpit, CONGRESS certainly can't.

  2. I wonder: couldn't we agree that for any appointee under 40 to an executive branch posting, we'll just do a thorough Google search and let it go at that. After all, the intent of the vetting is not to learn more about the nominee, it's to identify PR issues before they get into the media. And these days the media don't do shoe-leather reporting, they just Google. {/cynicism off]

  3. Jonathan,

    Could you give me your opinion on lifetime appointments for federal judges? I think it is maybe the dumbest and most harmful part of our system of government.

    1. Just for myself, I think it's kinda dumb.* Not as dumb as elected judges, but pretty dumb. The principle--that removing a judge from normal election or reappointment cycles allows them the freedom to work--isn't a foolish one, I don't think. But that could be accomplished with a non-lifetime long term.

      What I'd like to see, on SCOTUS at least, would be basically 18 year terms. Just to be "cute," I'd say that the longest tenured Justice would step down two years after the last vacancy (so it would be a little clearer if folks retire, get sick, etc). Re-nominations would be at the discretion of the President and Senate. Under normal conditions, each seating of the Senate will vote on one SCOTUS judge, and given the 22nd, no President would directly select an entire majority.

      *Or at least, it has become dumb. I'd need to know a lot more history to figure out if I think it's an inherent problem, or one which has been exacerbated by contemporary politics.

  4. I read your article on the Senate horse race update, and I think that you forgot a major elephant in the room. One of the biggest factors for the 2014 races will be the Obamacare roll-out.

    If the roll-out is competent, then there will be a lot of unhappy poor people in Southern states who will discover that their Republican legislatures are denying them Medicaid. Like raising the minimum wage, this single issue has the potential to bring a lot of people to the polls. They will see a concrete benefit to voting for Democrats like they have never seen before.


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