Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 2, 2010

MEET BARBARA MILANO KEENAN.... Nearly seven months ago, President Obama nominated Judge Barbara Milano Keenan to serve on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Her record and qualifications were beyond reproach, and she enjoyed the enthusiastic support of her home-state's senators, Virginia's Jim Webb (D) and Mark Warner (D).

Her nomination was considered nearly six months ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved Keenan unanimously -- not a single Republican raised an objection. If ever there was going to be an Obama judicial nominee who deserved to be quickly and easily confirmed, Keenan fit the bill.

And yet, the Senate Republican caucus is the Senate Republican caucus. Keenan's nomination was delayed, then, because of a GOP filibuster. Why? No one has the foggiest idea. It's apparently just habitual -- Republicans try to block judicial nominees just for the sake of trying to block judicial nominees.

This morning, the Senate held a cloture vote to end the Republican filibuster on Keenan. The vote was 99 to 0. This afternoon, the Senate held a final confirmation vote, and produced the same margin. (thanks to reader G.S.)

The Senate has unanimously confirmed Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Milano Keenan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The vote Tuesday was 99-0 for Keenan, the first female judge elected in Virginia and the only woman appointed to the Virginia Court of Appeals when it was created in 1985. The Richmond-based Fourth Circuit covers Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. [...]

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., lamented that there are now some 100 vacancies among 876 federal judgeships, that the Fourth Circuit currently has four vacancies and that the seat Keenan will fill has been empty for two years.

Keenan's nomination was delayed for months by a filibuster, only to see her win unanimous confirmation. In other words, those who sought to block her nomination ultimately voted against their own obstructionism, and for the judge they tried to stop.

It's one thing to block an up-or-down vote on a judge some senators find problematic. But we have a Senate where Republicans filibuster nominees who enjoy unanimous support. We're left with a confirmation process in which it takes seven months to approve arguably the least controversial judicial nominee this administration will ever send to the Senate.

Also note, it's not just Keenan -- there are several pending judicial nominees, all of whom have been approved by the Judiciary Committee, some with unanimous support, who continue to wait for no good reason.

This is an untenable process.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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It's absurd. There should be a limit to the stops, say, 10-15% to make sure the worst nominees don't ever make it to the bench. But several 100 or so? That's just plain nauseating...

Posted by: stevio on March 2, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Why this isn't the lead dem talking point every day on the filibuster discussion is a total mystery to me. It is a target rich environment.

Posted by: beyond left on March 2, 2010 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

That's why I don't believe Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP folks when they try to blame Bunning for the unemployment, etc. extension snafu. They are being jerks just because they want to be jerks.

Why do the Democrats let the Republicans behave this way?

Posted by: freelunch on March 2, 2010 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Let's hope these nominees resent blanket GOP obstructionism so much that we finally see some of that judicial activism that only rears it's head from conservative judges actually advocating FOR the people.

Yeah, I know...I won't hold my breath.

Posted by: MsJoanne on March 2, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Obama just needs to announce that any nominee that has been out of committee for more than two months gets recessed appointed at the next chance.

The Senate can do what it likes, but the jobs will get done.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on March 2, 2010 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

What can be done about it?

Posted by: June on March 2, 2010 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Petulance is a very useful term while framing recent Republican antics!

For what else could explain such abhorrent behavior other than, "These petulant Republican senators are ruining decent civil governance."

Petulant youth are sometimes referred to as shit-stirrers as they seldom think beyond their own interests to realize their behavior has consequences upon others, with whom they are not obviously concerned.

Selfish, petulant policy-makers putrify our political processes!

Thanks for nothing Mr. Jim Bunning, save misery! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 2, 2010 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, wait, I don't understand this one. Was the 99-0 cloture vote the first cloture vote? Because if cloture was filed back when we had 60 senators, I don't understand how the Republicans were able to filibuster. Who voted with them?

On the other hand, if this was the first cloture vote and it passed 99-0, then when was the filibuster?

There just isn't enough information here to figure out why she was delayed. It sounds like Harry Reid didn't bring her nom to the floor.

Color me stupid; I don't get this one.

Posted by: elmo on March 2, 2010 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

First a quick response to MobiusKlein above -- Federal judges are lifetime appointments under the Constitution and cannot be appointed by recess appointment.

Second, why did it take this long for the Dems to try a cloture vote on this nomination? If not a single Repub was willing to vote against cloture, why didn't Reid try long ago? The system is broken in more ways than just one!!!

Posted by: MW on March 2, 2010 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

elmo beat me to it (I'm slow today)- this should have been brought up weekly from the time of tne unanimous judiciary committee referral.

and here is a very, very simple procedural change that can be made immediately by the Dems: roll call all cloture votes. that way when the vote is eventually 99-0, we have an easier time pounding the Republicans for hypocrisy so there is some "accountability moment" for their actions.

Posted by: zeitgeist on March 2, 2010 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

I beleive the delay in confirming Judge Keenan was due to an anonymous hold being placed on her confirmation rather than a filibuster.

I assume whoever placed the hold released it for whatever reason.

Posted by: Old School on March 2, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

If it was a hold, then we have Harry Reid to thank, as he can deny these holds at his discretion. Apparently, he feels these acts are inviolable.

I can't wait to see his sorry ass thrown out of the Senate.

Posted by: bdop4 on March 2, 2010 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

GOP = The Party of FU. We should make bumper stickers with the finger displayed prominently.

Posted by: bdop4 on March 2, 2010 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ok, it's untenable: absolutely. But what do we do about it? Is anybody trying to do something about it? I suppose docking the pay -- and giving it, oh, say to the unemployed -- of senators who refuse to work in good faith is out of the question? Because money is one of the few things these guys respect.

Posted by: SF on March 2, 2010 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK
bdop4@5:30: GOP = The Party of FU. We should make bumper stickers with the finger displayed prominently.

Well, they'd probably outsell all other bumper stickers since they'd be bought by both left and right (and I suspect more the latter than the former).

Posted by: JTK on March 2, 2010 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Elmo's post raises a big point. Anything is called a filibuster by crybabies and political theater actors to play games.

41 Senators have to formal announce their intention to continue debate indefinitely.
THAT is a filibuster.
How in hell could there have been a filibuster with a cloture vote of 99-to ZERO show pass?
She was passed unanimously through committee.
I think the author has some s'plainin to do.
Who formally filed the filibuster?
How were there 41 Senators filibustering when the Dems had 60 Senators?
This is a lot of nonsense.
Next, calling for a lunch recess will be a filibuster.

Posted by: glezzery on March 2, 2010 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK
It's one thing to block an up-or-down vote on a judge some senators find problematic. But we have a Senate where Republicans filibuster nominees who enjoy unanimous support.

Stop perpetuating that lie. Republicans aren't filibustering. They're threatening to filibuster, and Harry Reid has the discretion to force them to actually filibuster. Rule 22. Look it up.

Republicans are the scum of the earth, yes, but Democrats don't need them to pass anything. 50 plus Biden, that's all that's needed.

Posted by: Marc Spinoza on March 3, 2010 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

Please note:

Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was famously opposed, with fiery, specific substance by Sen. Kennedy and others. Agree or disagree as you may, the opposition was not arbitrary.

If ever there was an occasion when the Democrats could simply have thrown up a hold or filibuster, that was it. But Judge Bork's nomination was NOT filibustered. It was not disappeared into the committee circular file. It was defeated by a well-debated floor vote. No obstruction; just simple democracy.

When the Broders, Blitzers, and conservatives slouch into the "they both do it" zone, stick these facts in their face.

Posted by: RuSs on March 3, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK



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