WASHINGTON ― Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) just can’t bring himself to play well with others.
He’s spent more than six years ― 2,323 days, to be precise ― singlehandedly preventing a vacancy on a federal court in his state from being filled. It’s the longest circuit court vacancy in the country.
That’s why it was a big deal Wednesday when the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for Wisconsin lawyer Donald Schott, who would fill the seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Schott’s other home-state senator, introduced him with rave reviews. A few committee members peppered him with questions, but signaled no problems with his qualifications.
What did Johnson have to say? Who knows. He didn’t show up.
Typically, both of a nominee’s senators come to these hearings to make the best case possible for confirming the nominee. Schott was one of eight finalists for the seat suggested by the Wisconsin senators’ own commission. And Johnson previously joined Baldwin in turning in their “blue slips” for Schott ― a procedural step that signals a senator is ready to advance a nominee in the committee.
Johnson spokesman Patrick McIlheran later told The Huffington Post that the senator missed Schott’s hearing because he was tied up in another previously scheduled committee hearing, which he had to chair. In a statement, Johnson reiterated that he’d turned in his blue slip for Schott, but didn’t clarify if he was pushing to get the nominee confirmed.
“I signed the blue slip for Don Schott, recommending that the Judiciary Committee consider the nomination, which they did today,” the senator said.
Johnson’s efforts to stall on filling the 7th Circuit seat fit into a broader GOP strategy of blocking nearly all of President Barack Obama’s judicial picks this year. That’s because Republican leaders prefer to hold out until 2017, when Donald Trump might be in the White House and put forward judicial nominees more appealing to their party.
The problem with not filling court seats, though, is that it can stretch the judicial system to a breaking point. People’s cases can get delayed for years as judges grapple with burnout. There are currently 87 federal court vacancies. Twenty-eight are considered emergencies.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said last week that he expects the Senate to halt all judicial confirmations in August. That doesn’t bode well for the 7th Circuit, which is about to roll into it’s seventh year of having an empty seat.
This story has been updated with comment from Sen. Johnson’s office.