Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
May 30, 2015

Leahy Eyes ‘Nuclear Option’ Threat to Confirm Judges

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A senior Senate Democrat is eyeing the “nuclear option” to eliminate filibusters of nominations — this time for circuit court judges.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy says Democrats should bring back the idea of changing the rules with a simple majority if Republicans block nominees to a federal appeals court.

“I think that the rules change will come back on the table if it’s filibustered because it is one thing if you had somebody who is not qualified. These people are extraordinarily well-qualified,” the Vermont Democrat said of three nominees pending to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in an interview that will air Sunday on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last month that his plan to change the Senate’s procedures with a simple majority vote (the “nuclear option”) would have applied only to executive branch nominees, not judges. Reid ultimately struck a deal with Arizona Sen. John McCain and other Republicans to avoid that outcome.

It’s not clear that Reid would have had the votes to push through a simple majority rule for judges, although the No. 3 Senate Democrat, Charles E. Schumer of New York, suggested the possibility of a rules change to fill the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March.

The D.C. Circuit, considered by many to be the most significant federal court outside the Supreme Court, is no stranger to the judicial wars. It’s the same court to which President George W. Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, for instance.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, referred to the Estrada blockade during a July 10 hearing on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Patricia Ann Millett to the D.C. Circuit.

Republicans, led by Leahy’s GOP counterpart Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, contend that the court is simply not busy enough to need the three judges, citing statistics on the number of cases filed.

“Cases filed and cases terminated measure the amount of appeals coming into the court and being resolved by the court, respectively. That is how you determine how busy a court is,” Grassley said July 10.

However, Democrats note that the D.C. Circuit handles a lot of particularly complex material and tends to have a lot of cases that remain pending for a long time.

“They’re saying, well you know the caseload is down. Baloney! Caseload is a lot higher than it was during the Bush tenure when they said they needed new judges,” Leahy said. “This is an extraordinarily important court. A lot of the things that go through the administrative parts of our government go there, and they can do … more to thwart the will of the president or the Congress than anybody else because most cases never get to the Supreme Court.”

Leahy, in response to questioning from CQ Roll Call’s John Gramlich on “Newsmakers,” said that he believed Republicans “do not want a balanced court” at the D.C. Circuit.

“I’m not asking for a Republican or Democratic court, I want one that’s balanced,” Leahy said. “It is not balanced now, and they are trying to keep it unbalanced.”

  • lyris

    Do it! It can’t be any worse than one or two gop twits jamming up the works.

    • Ruth

      Yes, it can.

    • njoriole

      Typical “progressive” (so-called) bs: filibuster Estrada? That’s justified. Filibuster our jominees? That’s obstructiin!

    • cubanbob

      What comes round goes around. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Darth Chocolate

    Remember that when you are in the minority.

    • Retired military

      If immigration passes than that wont be in our lifetime.

      • Paul Wade

        Isn’t it a crime to knowingly aid and abet a criminal in committing their crime?

        If that amnesty bill is passed, isn’t that a crime committed by the majority of our congress? Or should I say ‘the illegal aliens’ congress?

  • Turning Leaves

    Is that why his plane was really diverted? Silly Leahy, don’t talk about such things in flight or at the airport.

  • bflat879

    I have 2 words to say to this hateful, divisive Democrat, Miguel Estrada. To say I hate phony Democrats who pull the worst parliamentary tricks to stop the majority, and then, when they’re in the majority, pull out all the stops to thwart the minority, would be an understatement.
    What they did to President Bush was terrible. Laurence Tribe, that unelected Harvard Law professor, came up with a strategy to hold back Bush’s nominations. It was a strategy, not based on numbers, but on holding majorities in districts. It also kept certain judges from positions leading to the supreme Court, which is the case with Miguel Estrada.
    This is all about power and the Democrats are worried about 2014 and need to get the worst of the worst nominated and confirmed before the Republicans take over in 2014. God help us if that doesn’t happen.

    • Paul Wade

      That could be the opening round of rebellion.

  • jimtrees

    Tales from the crypt with this guy. Only when he sneezes and his nose falls off will he finally quit.

  • ThreeToedBearkiller

    We need a Constitutional Court not a left wing radical one that chischumer wants

  • kzintius

    They’re only qualified in his view because they are likely communist-democrats like himself.

    • Pug

      Can’t believe so many of these old-timers still talking about communists.

      • kzintius

        Communist, democrat, liberal, progressive, all different names for the same thing: corrupt statists.

  • Jeannine Hoffmann

    We need our courts filled with qualified individual. This is an issue that I believe all our congress should be able to agree on. I am tired of the inaction of Congress on critical issues.
    Please consider amending the rules and allow the judges to take their positions on the bench without unending delay.
    Thank you.

  • Stan

    All politicians that took the oath to uphold and obey the Constitution of the United States and are doing all they can do to destroy the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be removed from office by “WE THE PEOPLE”.

    • Gary

      And how does “we the people” go about doing that? Without physical force it will not be done , the democraps have refined the art of voter fraud. Frankly, if they aren’t forced out or killed, we probably will not win any more elections!

      • Stan

        You answered you own question!

  • waypasthadenough2

    What happened to my comment?????

  • Jason Buckwheat


    • Paul Wade

      What oath? They just moved their lips, they didn’t repeat the oath verbally.

      • Jason Buckwheat


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