Two of President Obama’s choices for the federal bench in California have been dealt a setback, as the Senate adjourned for a month and sent back to the White House the nominations of UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu and San Francisco Magistrate Edward M. Chen.
Liu and Chen face solid Republican opposition, and their chances of being confirmed now look to be in doubt.
Under a rarely invoked rule, the Senate must agree to carry over pending nominations when it goes on a 30-day recess. But Republican leaders objected to carrying over several disputed nominees, including Liu and Chen.
“The Republicans are obstructing and, in effect, trying to kill these nominations,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Friday. “It is tragic because these are very worthy nominees who deserve to have their nominations debated and put to a vote.”
In February, Obama nominated Liu, 39, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A leading liberal academic, he has been seen as a possible future Supreme Court nominee if confirmed. But Republicans have said his writings show him to be extremely liberal, and they vowed to block him.
Chen was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union before becoming a federal magistrate. Last year, he was nominated to be a U.S. district judge in San Francisco, and he also ran into sharp opposition from the GOP.
Glenn Sugameli, a lawyer for Defenders of Wildlife, said he thought Liu and Chen could still be confirmed. “I believe they will be renominated in September, and the Democrats will make a strong push for a floor vote,” he said.
“I think they realize it will take cloture, which requires 60 votes,” to approve them in the Senate, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. If the 41 Republicans remain unified in their opposition, they can block action in the Senate.
The logjam over judges broke briefly Thursday night, when Republican leaders cleared the way for four nominees, including North Carolina Judge James Wynn, to be confirmed on a voice vote.
Wynn, 56, will fill a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that has been vacant since 1994. He was first nominated to the appeals court by President Clinton in 1999, but was blocked by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Last year Obama nominated him again, and he won an 18-1 vote of approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky objected to holding a Senate vote on Wynn and about two dozen nominees.
He said that Democrats had blocked several of President George W. Bush’s well-qualified nominees from being confirmed to the 4th Circuit Court.
But after news stories highlighted Wynn’s plight, McConnell lifted his objection and Wynn was confirmed, along with three new district judges.