Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Get Moving on Judges

Given Republican holds and filibusters against Obama judicial nominees, should Obama, as David Fontana in TNR suggests, revisit his strategy of nominating broadly acceptable, relatively non-ideological, judges?  Kevin Drum frames it as tension between wanting to be seen as offering an olive branch, on one hand, and on not wanting to be seen as a patsy, on the other. 

Perhaps.  But I think a more immediate response from Obama should be to demand that Senate Democrats move these nominations forward, and that Senate Democrats actually do so.  It's not clear from the Fontana's reporting exactly what is causing the slow-down, but Democrats shouldn't feel obliged to govern the Senate using traditional standards of comity if Republicans aren't playing by those rules.  If Republicans are putting holds on nominees simply to stop them, then Democrats should move ahead regardless.  If Republicans are threatening to force the use of unreasonable amounts of floor time (as they have with health care), then Democrats should hold whatever extra sessions are necessary to get the job done. 

I've defended Senate Democrats against the idea that they, and not Republicans, should be blamed for allowing the health care filibuster, on the grounds that it's reasonable for Lieberman, Nelson, and the rest to bargain for their positions, which differ from the majority of the caucus.  But on non-controversial judicial (and executive) appointments, that excuse does not apply. 

And this is a case where Barack Obama could probably make a lot more noise.  He would do himself and the Democrats some good by pounding a bit on the notion that Republicans are dragging their feet on nominations, to the extent that the judiciary (and executive branch agencies) are suffering.  He can publicly push Democrats to move the nominations, staying in on weekends if necessary.  Or he can threaten Senate Democrats that if they don't take action, he'll call them out on it.  Obama (and the Democrats in general) should be doing a much better job of convincing Washingtonians that Republican rejectionist strategies are causing real harm, and the strength of uncontroversial nominations is that they make that point so well.  Or, at least they would, if the president took the lead.

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