WASHINGTON (MCT) — The Senate was unable to break the election-year blockade of judicial nominees Monday as Republicans filibustered one of President Barack Obama’s popular picks for appellate court in Oklahoma, all but ensuring no further such confirmations will be made by this Congress.
The filibuster showed that neither bipartisan support for nominees nor the shortage of judges in the nation’s legal system would prevent the partisan fighting that is defining the countdown to the November election.
Judge Robert E. Bacharach was a largely noncontroversial figure, backed the state’s two Republican senators. The Senate voted 56-34, failing to reach the 60-votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
The GOP blockade was not without discomfort. Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said the situation was awkward because Bacharach was so well received.
“I cannot vote against this guy,” Inhofe said. In an unusual move, Inhofe simply voted present, as did fellow Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. Three other Republicans voted to confirm the judge, including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is in a tough re-election battle.
Republicans defended their decision to employ the so-called Thurmond rule — named after the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who in early 1980 refused President Jimmy Carter’s judicial nominees — as a necessary “time out.” The intent was to allow the incoming president to make appointments for such lifetime judicial posts.
But the GOP is also still smarting from Obama’s recess appointments this year of nonjudicial nominees Republicans opposed. Coburn called the rule “stupid.”
Democrats decried the blockade as an unnecessary expression of partisanship in an election year. But under the George W. Bush administration, Democrats also made some use of the rule, which Republicans prefer to call the Leahy-Thurmond rule after the Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
“If ever there was an example of crocodile tears, this is it,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.
Leahy, though, said Monday’s action was the first time a judicial nominee with bipartisan support from the committee had been blocked. “What they are doing now is a first,” he said.
Obama nominated Bacharach in January to fill a vacancy on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which Democratic officials said is more than 16 percent understaffed.
Bacharach is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma and received his law degree in from Washington University School of Law in 1985. Before becoming a magistrate in 1999, he worked in private practice an Oklahoma City firm.
He was nominated by Obama along with William J. Kayatta, a Maine attorney, who has served as a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and whose confirmation is now also likely to stall.
The Maine senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, voted to confirm Bacharach.
The conservative Heritage Foundation warned senators Monday’s vote would be counted on its scorecard of lawmakers’ performances.