May 03, 2011

Reid Files Cloture, Signaling War

Statement of CFJ Executive Director Curt Levey:

Even Democrats concede that the pace of judicial confirmations has quickened this year with the help of Republican leaders in the Senate. But apparently that’s not good enough for Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid signaled Monday that he is ready to go to war over President Obama’s most controversial judicial nominees, as well as the equally contentious Deputy Attorney General nominee James Cole. After announcing Monday that he will attempt to force votes on the controversial nominees, Reid filed cloture on one of them—Rhode Island district court nominee John McConnell—compelling Republican senators to attempt a filibuster when McConnell comes to a vote later this week.

McConnell is fiercely opposed by GOP senators, the business community, and a wide array of conservative groups because of his reputation as an unscrupulous plaintiff’s attorney willing to bring questionable lawsuits against American employers and make record-setting political contributions that suggest “pay to play.” McConnell even managed to engender stiff opposition from the United States Chamber of Commerce, which rarely involves itself with judicial nominations, and doubts at the American Bar Association, where he became one of only a handful of Obama nominees to get less than a unanimously qualified rating. Following his nomination, McConnell cemented his reputation by providing misleading answers to questions posed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee

Moderate Republicans and perhaps a handful of red-state Democrats will determine whether John McConnell gets the 60 votes to survive a filibuster and, if so, the 51 votes to be confirmed. We urge those concerned about McConnell’s ability to render impartial rulings on the bench to call these key senators immediately.

The filibuster and confirmation votes will be close because of two factors: 1) the reluctance of several GOP senators to filibuster a judicial nominee under any circumstances, and 2) the reluctance of even moderate Democratic senators to deviate from a party-line vote on judicial nominees. The outcome of the votes will be closely watched both for their own sake and as an indicator of whether Reid will meet success if he follows through fully on his threat to go to war over Obama’s most controversial nominees, including radioactive Ninth Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu.