With the Senate controlled by a newly-elected Republican majority, 2015 turned out to be the single worst year for judicial confirmations in over half a century.
Instead of keeping their promise to follow “regular order” and “work to confirm consensus nominees,” Senate Republicans obstructed and delayed the confirmation process at every opportunity. Only 11 judges were confirmed, the fewest in a single year since 1960. Only one court of appeals judge was confirmed, the worst since none were confirmed in 1953. And as confirmations dwindled, vacancies shot up. In 2015, vacancies rose from 43 to 66 (they’ll hit 70 by January 1), and officially-designated “judicial emergencies” went up nearly 160% from 12 to 31. Senate Republicans could have improved this record if they followed the routine practice of confirming consensus nominees before adjourning. Fourteen district and circuit court nominees (including one nominee to the Court of International Trade) are pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, and all of them cleared the Judiciary Committee unopposed via voice vote. Yet the Senate will leave town without confirming any of them. Instead, Senate Republicans agreed only to hold votes for five of those nominees next year, beginning with Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo on January 11. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call votes for the remaining four nominees—district court nominees from Minnesota, New Jersey, and two from Iowa—at some point before President’s Day. After that, no promises.
The result is historic futility that only Senator McConnell fails to see. “I think I can safely say here,” he proudly announced this week, that “at the end of the first year of this new majority, [Senate] dysfunction is over.”