BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, August 05, 2012
8/05/12 at 3:05 AM
Oklahoma Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn consider themselves lions of the U.S. Senate, men standing on principle, men willing to take an unpopular stand whether it be earmarks or global warming, defense spending or the national debt crisis.
So why did they look like cowardly lions last week? When it came time to stand by 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Robert Bacharach - who Coburn called the most qualified nominee in "my eight years in the Senate" - neither senator ended up fighting to end a filibuster so that Bacharach could receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged senators to block consideration. The vote was 56-34, with a partisan minority preventing the majority from ending the filibuster; 60 votes were needed to get over the hurdle. Never before had the Senate successfully filibustered an appeals court nominee who'd come out of the Judiciary Committee with near unanimous support, including that of Coburn who serves on the panel.
"Is it something about him (Bacharach)? No, it's all about politics," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Instead of fighting, Coburn and Inhofe disingenuously voted "present," which in the case of a filibuster is the same as a "no" vote.
Only last June, Coburn went on the record as saying that the Senate would be "stupid" not to let Bacharach's nomination come up for a vote. Now it appears that none of Obama's appellate court nominees will receive a confirmation vote before the Nov. 6 election.
As they clambered onto the partisan party boat, Inhofe and Coburn knocked a good man (Bacharach) overboard. They defended their indefensible actions by saying that they could not go against "the Leahy-Thurmond" rule that supposedly prevents votes on appellate judge nominees within several months of an election. But, make no mistake, they had a choice and could have gone down swinging.
In the past five presidential election years, Senate Democrats never denied an up-or-down vote to any circuit court nominee (of a Republican president) who had received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. In the past five presidential election years, only four circuit nominees who had bipartisan Judiciary Committee support were denied an up-or-down vote on the Senate Floor, and all four were nominated by President Bill Clinton.
Bacharach joins at least 20 other district court and appellate court nominees left twisting in the wind until Republican senators find out who wins the White House Nov. 6.
In their zeal to stick it to the president, Senate Republicans stuck it to the American people. Nearly one in 11 federal judgeships - 80 vacancies in all - are empty and the 10th Circuit spot has been vacant for two years. Of 12 active judgeships on that court, which serves six states, two are vacant. Helping with the heavy caseload are several senior judges, including, reportedly, an 89-year-old Lyndon Johnson appointee and a 96-year-old Richard Nixon appointee.
Many federal courts are in a state of judicial emergency due to lack of judges and because of inexcusable foot-dragging by the Senate over the past 3 1/2 years. As the saying goes, "justice delayed, is justice denied." Some civil cases are taking up to three years to be heard.
Back when the Senate acted more reasonably regarding confirmation of judicial nominees, John F. Kennedy had to wait only two months for the Senate to confirm his initial round of judicial nominees; Ronald Reagan six months, and George W. Bush, nine months. It's taken forever for Obama's nominees to get through and some, like Bacharach, have been left at the altar.
This insane process has become as un-American as the Spanish Inquisition, with nominees treated more like public enemies than prospective public servants answering a call to duty.
Unparalleled in pettiness, unrivaled in rancor, confirmation (or the lack thereof) of government officials and judges has become unmatched in melodrama, unequaled in inefficiency. It's nasty, cruel and unfair. Fault abounds. But most of the blame should be hung - like a dead chicken - around the neck of the U.S. Senate, which has turned its confirmation role into a blood sport.
Julie DelCour, 918-581-8379
“Magistrate Judge Bob Bacharach is a stellar individual, rated very highly qualified by the ABA. ...I hope this is the last election cycle we use the Leahy-Thurmond rule... .”
— Sen. Tom Coburn
“It’s awkward that one of the best nominees ... is the one
who’s the subject of this vote, and I regret that’s the case. ... (July 31) “It is kind of rare that the Obama
White House and I agree (Re: Bacharach) on anything.” (June) — Sen. James Inhofe
“I will go so far as to say that Romney may very well end up nominating Bacharach, should he win. That is how literally non-controversial this nominee is.” — Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity