Though Senate Republicans set an ambitious pace for judicial confirmations in 2017, some three dozen nominees are currently awaiting final approval in the Senate, with little hope of a final vote in the near future.
As of Friday, 32 nominees have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and are awaiting a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Senators left Washington for a two-week recess on Friday.
The list includes four candidates for the federal appeals courts in New Orleans, La., Chicago, Ill., and Denver, Colo. Circuit courts supervise federal district courts across multiple states, and issue final decisions in the overwhelming majority of cases.
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The remaining 28 were nominated to federal trial courts. District court nominees generally do not elicit strong opposition, as senators work collaboratively with the White House to fill vacant seats in their states, and lawmakers are often deferential to the choices of their colleagues. Though Senate Democrats and liberal interest groups have rallied against several of these appointees, 19 of the 28 were voted out of the Judiciary Committee with significant bipartisan support.
Since Democrats are unlikely to leverage delaying tactics against these 19 candidates, the abeyance of their nominations is especially surprising.
Two of the appeals court nominees, Joel Carson III for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Kurt Engelhardt for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also secured support from Committee Democrats, raising the prospect of a quick approval from the full Senate.
The new year has seen 10 judges confirmed to the federal bench, or slightly less than one judicial confirmation per week. There are presently 147 vacancies on the federal bench, for which President Donald Trump has named 54 nominees according to the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has faced scrutiny from conservative interest groups before when progress stalled on filling judgeships. One such organization, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), planned to put $250,000 behind a digital advertising campaign urging McConnell to abolish procedural delaying tactics or stage marathon confirmation sessions to approve as many nominees as possible.
The Senate’s light work schedule in particular has been a continued point of frustration for conservative activists. They argue Republican leadership should keep the Senate in schedule for as long as is necessary in order to complete the confirmation process, and abjure long weekends and home-state work periods.
McConnell aides managed to head off JCN’s threat, and 11 nominees were approved before the end of the year, including eight appeals court judges.
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