Another fight over judges
Turning the federal courts into another partisan battleground is a big mistake.
The U.S. Senate would hardly be recognizable if Democrats and Republican weren't fighting over judicial nominees to the federal courts.
The battle is usually waged below ground, where most people don't see these distasteful partisan exercises.
But last week, fed-up Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, threatened to bring the Senate to a grinding halt if Republicans did not abandon their effort to slow-walk 17 of President Obama's judicial nominees through the confirmation process.
In the end, Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked out an agreement to confirm 14 of the 17 nominees by early May. But the latest standoff demonstrates once again how politicized the confirmation process has become.
Democrats, of course, are complaining that it's the Republicans who are undermining what had been, until recent times, a bipartisan approach to confirming presidential judicial nominees.
But when President Bush was in office, it was the Senate Democrats, over the bitter objections of Senate Republicans, who did everything they could to block or slow Bush nominees.
And if Republicans win the White House in November, look for Democrats to do the same thing to the Republicans that the Republicans are now doing to the Democrats. Both sides do it, and both sides complain bitterly when it is done to them.
Neither side will lay down its arms, and that means many judicial nominees wait weeks, months, sometimes even years, for a confirmation vote.
The latest battle involves 17 judicial nominees, including two district court nominees for the Northern District of Illinois — John Lee and John Tharp. Both are distinguished lawyers.
The group includes three nominees to federal appeals court positions and 14 to federal trial court positions.
Under the agreement, the Senate will vote on 14 of the 17 nominees — two for the appellate courts and 12 for the district courts.
Lee, nominated by Illinois' Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, will get a vote, but Tharp, nominated by Illinois' Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, will not.
Under a traditional arrangement, the Democratic senator under a Democratic president makes judicial nominations for trial court positions. But Durbin and Kirk have agreed to share the appointment power on a three-to-one arrangement, with the senator from the president's party naming three judges to one by the senator from the minority party.
It's an effective power-sharing arrangement. However those kind of agreements can go for naught when they get caught up in the partisan fights over judicial confirmations.
Unfortunately, political fights over judicial confirmations will not end for the foreseeable future. They have slowly escalated over the past three decades, and it probably will take just as long for them to de-escalate.
Indeed, they may actually get worse — if they can get worse. To protest Senate intransigence, President Obama recently evaded the constitutional requirement of Senate confirmation by making what are called recess appointments.
Recess appointments are temporary appointments made when the Senate is in recess. Presidents of both parties have made them over the years, but they infuriate those who zealously guard the Senate prerogatives in the confirmation process.
For now, of course, Senate Democrats and Republicans have reached an accommodation on judicial confirmations, and peace has been restored. But this issue will be back sooner rather than later.