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Eye On Boise

Senators spar on floor over votes on judicial nominees, including Idaho’s…

Senators, now back in session in Washington, D.C. after their August recess, made some moves toward approving judicial nominees including Idaho’s David Nye today, but got nowhere. There were, however, some dramatic interchanges on the floor of the Senate.

The exchange, as broadcast on CSPAN, began when Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., asked unanimous consent that the Senate immediately vote on all 20 pending nominees – including Nye – with no further debate. Heitkamp said based on what she heard over the August recess, “The people of North Dakota and I think the people of this country have a simple message: They want us to do our job. They’re sick and tired of politics getting in the way of work getting done, and they don’t understand why even the most basic issues, the most simple issues, issues where there are vast majorities that support them, get hung up in partisan politics.” She said with the Senate’s failure to act on a big backlog of federal court judge nominees, “Justice is being severely delayed in these jurisdictions.”

Twenty federal district court nominees have received Senate Judiciary Committee approval after hearings, 18 of them on unanimous votes, Heitkamp said. “I think it’s time to do our job – I think it’s time to move these 20 nominees and to get the court fully functioning.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., responded, “The Senate has treated President Obama very fairly with respect to his judicial nominations.” He countered that he’d propose, instead, a “bipartisan package of four.” McConnell said he’d support a vote on one district court nominee from California, two from Pennsylvania, and one from Utah, and proposed allowing 30 minutes of debate on each of the four nominations.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., objected. “This is difficult for me,” he told the Senate. But he said McConnell’s proposal would skip the two federal district court nominees who have been waiting the longest for confirmation votes – and the only two African Americans among the first 15 judge nominees on the list. Those two have been awaiting Senate confirmation votes since February and May of 2015, Booker said.   

“Now I know my colleagues in the Republican Party, I know that this is not a conscious thing,” Booker told the Senate. “I know this is a coincidence that is not intentional, that the two longest (pending) judges, the two only African American judges on this list of 15 are being skipped over, but I do feel it necessary to point out that fact. At a time that this nation is looking at our judicial system as needing to confront issues of racial bias, at a time that judicial organizations of all backgrounds are pointing out the need for diversity on the federal court, what is being suggested right now is that we come up with a bargain to skip over the two longest waiting district court judges who happen to be the only two African Americans on the list of the next 15 – that to me is unacceptable. Especially when you look at the qualifications of these two judges. Especially if you look at their wide bipartisan support within the Judiciary Committee. The perception alone should be problematic to all of us in this body.”

With that objection, the Senate moved on, taking no action for now on the judicial nominees. Nye is No. 18 on that list of 20 nominees awaiting full Senate votes. You can watch the full CSPAN clip here.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee today held hearings on five more district court nominees from Texas. The same panel unanimously endorsed Nye’s nomination, along with two others, on July 14. The Senate returned yesterday from its August recess, which started in mid-July.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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