Politics

03.27.13

Speaking of Courts...

While everyone is focused on courts, let's talk about the terrible situation at the DC Circuit court, where four of the 11 seats are vacant and where Senate Republicans have by every appearance just decided that they are not going to let Obama appoint anyone ever.

Last week, Obama withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan after she got just 51 votes (she needed 60 to break the GOP filibuster). She's a prosecutor, but she's not the kind of prosecutor Republicans can accept because she has prosecuted gun manufacturers. The NRA, essentially, blocked her.

The existing seven judges tilt 4-3 Republican. But it's actually far more imbalanced, because a number of elderly judges have taken "senior status" which means part-time work (with full pay) and almost all of those are conservative, including our old pals David Sentelle and Laurence Silberman, who have done such stellar work on questions like shielding Clarence Thomas's obvious lies during his nomination process (Silberman) and helping Kenny Starr (Sentelle) try to nail Clinton.

All sort of issues come before the Court. Just the other day I mentioned the role the DC Circuit played in watering down Dodd-Frank. Here are a few other recent hits, via People for the American Way: invalidating three appointments to the NLRB, striking down air pollution regulations, ruling for the tobacco companies, using a narrow mil regulation to try to roll back 70 years' worth of regs, and so on.

Bush made four appointments to the circuit. There is no question that it's a concerted strategy on Republicans' part to make sure that Obama leaves office having put zero judges on the court.

This just foreshadows, potentially, what might take place if (how to say this?) "something happens" to Scalia or Kennedy between now and 2017. It would be my guess that Senate Republicans will just block any Obama nominee, and he'll leave office with an eight-member court. The only thing to prevent this would be public outrage, but how much public outrage would there really be?

Of course, they'll probably only get to do that once. Then President Clinton will get to appoint several judges and the Court will stop being the last bastion of reaction and will join modern America.