WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) blocked three of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees from getting votes Thursday because he said Democrats confirmed too many judges last year that Republicans wanted to take credit for this year.
Cornyn objected to a request by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to vote on three U.S. district court nominees from New York. Ann Donnelly and LaShann Moutique DeArcy Hall are nominees for the Eastern District of New York, and Lawrence Vilardo is a nominee for the Western District of New York. Two of those vacancies are judicial emergencies, meaning judges on those courts are swamped and taking on more than 600 cases each, or have had between 430 and 600 cases for more than 18 months.
Cornyn said Obama doesn't get to have his nominees confirmed right now because Democrats "rammed through 11 federal judges" during the lame duck congressional session in December. He said "regular order" rules in the Senate mean those nominees should have been held over until the new year, when the GOP became the majority.
Had those judges been confirmed this year, Republicans could take credit for confirming them, which he said would "roughly be on pace" with the rate of judicial confirmations in 2007, when Democrats controlled the Senate under President George W. Bush in his seventh year in office.
Cornyn went ahead and counted them as judges Republicans confirmed this year.
"We're working at the usual pace," he said before blocking Schumer's request.
But Cornyn glossed over the fact that everyone in the Senate, including him, voted to confirm those 11 nominees in the lame duck session. Three were from his home state of Texas and he had been pressing Democratic leaders to hold votes to confirm them -- in that lame duck session.
"I certainly will be urging those Texas judges, including Judge Mazzant, to move through during the lame duck session so we can get these judges on the bench," Cornyn told a Texas newspaper in November.
It's not unusual for the Senate to confirm judges in a lame duck session. Democrats held votes on 20 of Bush's judicial picks in the lame-duck after the 2002 elections. The Senate confirmed nominees in lame-duck sessions after the 2004 and 2006 elections. In the 2010 lame-duck, the Senate confirmed 19 judicial nominees.
The bottom line is that Republicans just don't want Obama to fill court vacancies with his judicial picks. Their calculation is to hold off on filling vacancies until 2017, when there may be a Republican in the White House who can put GOP-backed judges on courts.
The problem is that the president has a constitutional duty to fill court vacancies, and the Senate has a constitutional duty to take up and vote on a president's picks. When judges aren't getting confirmed, courts get backed up and justice is delayed -- sometimes for years -- for people with court business.
GOP leaders have only allowed confirmation votes for six of Obama's judicial picks this year -- the slowest single-year pace in more than six decades.