Opinion: A harsh judgment on obstructionism in the Senate

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It’s a classic inside-the-Beltway issue that brings yawns from even some political junkies. I’m talking about the delay in Senate confirmation of President Obama’s judicial nominees. It doesn’t have the drama or political salience of, say, a deadlock over the debt ceiling, but the obstruction of judges is symbolic of the partisan gridlock that drove Sen. Olympia Snowe back to Maine.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a cloture motion to try to force debate on 17 nominations to federal district courts. That prompted his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to sputter: ‘We’re going to turn to something contentious instead of trying to do something that almost all of us agree on, that focuses on jobs’ -- a reference to pending small-business legislation passed by the House.

Jobs bills are arguably more urgent than judicial nominations, but 11 of the nominees have been awaiting action for months. Most recently, they have been held hostage by Republican objections to some of Obama’s recess appointments. But stalling judicial confirmations is an old story -- and Democrats played the game to delay or derail judicial nominations during the George W. Bush administration.

Compared to, say, someone laid off because of the recession, a judicial nominee waiting for confirmation isn’t a particularly poignant figure. But delays in confirmation do more than inconvenience nominees (for example, by making it impossible for them to take on new legal business); they also slow the administration of justice. Reid was right to call the Republicans on their obstructionism.



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