Debate and Then Vote; Senators Have a Constitutional Duty

Article excerpt


The American people elect their senators to do a job. Although the Senate is often called the world's greatest deliberative body, each senator's job, especially when it comes to judicial nominees brought to the Senate floor, is to vote. This is a matter of fairness. And it's a matter of constitutional duty. The Senate can confirm or reject nominees. But, at the end of debate, senators should do their job and give judicial nominees the courtesy of a vote.

In the last Congress, the president submitted 34 appeals court nominees to the Senate. A minority of senators blocked up-or-down votes to 10 of those nominees and threatened to deny votes to another six. This was unprecedented in 214 years of Senate history. Now, in the new Congress, the same minority of senators says it will continue its campaign of judicial obstruction. And, even worse, if they don't get their way, they threaten to shut down the Senate and obstruct government itself.

Judicial obstruction creates many problems: It keeps the president and the Senate from filling court vacancies; it clogs the nation's courts with cases and appeals; and it denies senators their right to vote on nominees. It simply cannot be allowed to continue. So, in the spirit of civility, I propose an agreement that ensures up-or-down votes on judicial nominees after fair and open debate. It's a compromise that holds to constitutional principles and that I sincerely hope is accepted as a solution.

To begin with, we must acknowledge that the bitterness many feel over the Senate's failure to confirm judges did not begin two years ago. Since the 1980s, the battles over judicial confirmation have intensified each year. In the past, Republican and Democratic majorities alike, refused to vote controversial nominees out of committee or even schedule hearings. Whether on the floor or in committee, judicial obstruction is judicial obstruction.

It's time for judicial obstruction to end no matter which party controls the White House or the Senate. The judiciary committee will continue to play its essential oversight and investigative roles in the confirmation process, but every senator should have the opportunity to confirm or reject judicial nominees with up-or-down votes on the floor. …