Maddow: When basic governance is deemed controversial…

Maddow(Re-blogged from the Maddow Blog at MSNBC) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely seen as the nation’s second most important federal bench, has three vacancies. President Obama yesterday introduced three non-controversial nominees to fill those vacancies. And were it not for the breakdowns of the American political process, none of this would be especially interesting.

But here we are.

Senate Republicans have come up with lots of reasons for not wanting to advance President Barack Obama’s nominees to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, whether it be false accusations of “court-packing” or claims that the court doesn’t need its three vacancies filled because it’s not busy enough.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued there was another problem with moving Obama’s nominees: a “culture of intimidation” being fueled by Democrats.

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Obama “intimidating” Republicans by doing what he’s supposed to do – fill vacancies at the federal bench.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) went further, responding to the nominees by telling reporters, “There is no basis for the president inventing these crises. It’s unpresidential. It’s embarrassing to me.”

Just so we’re clear, we’ve apparently reached the point at which a president nominating judges to fill existing vacancies is seen by Republicans as outrageous. They not only decry “court packing” — a phrase they use but clearly do not understand — they also feel “intimidated” and “embarrassed” by a basic governmental process outlined by the Constitution.

Indeed, according to Lamar Alexander, Obama is creating a “crisis.” Worse, it’s “unpresidential” for the president to exercise his presidential duties. I realize it’s a little unusual for the White House to introduce three judicial nominees at once, but this GOP freak-out is excessive by any sensible standard.

But, Mitch McConnell says, there’s no reason for Democrats to complain. “You know, we’ve confirmed an overwhelming number of judges for President Obama,” the Minority Leader told reporters yesterday. “So the president’s been treated very fairly on judicial [nominees].”

Is this true?

Greg Sargent took a closer look.

It is not easy to conclusively determine whether GOP obstructionism is unprecedented. But there are some data points we can look at. For instance, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who focuses on judicial nominations, has developed what he calls an “Index of Obstruction and Delay” designed to measure levels of obstructionism. In research that will be released in a July article he co-authored for Judicature Journal, he has calculated that the level of obstruction of Obama circuit court nominees during the last Congress was unprecedented.

Goldman calculates his Index of Obstruction and Delay by adding together the number of unconfirmed nominations, plus the number of nominations that took more than 180 days to confirm (not including nominations towards the end of a given Congress) and dividing that by the total number of nominations. During the last Congress, Goldman calculates, the Index of Obstruction and Delay for Obama circuit court nominations was 0.9524.

Goldman told Greg, “That’s the highest that’s ever been recorded.” He added, in reference to the most recent Congress, “[I]t is unprecedented for the minority party to obstruct and delay to the level that Republicans have done to Obama in the 112th Congress.”

The Congressional Research Service also found (pdf), “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).”

It appears that by objective standards, McConnell’s boasts have no basis in fact. Imagine that.

Nevertheless, the Minority Leader yesterday refused to commit to allowing the Senate to vote up or down on the new nominees, not because he can think of something wrong with them, but because he thinks the D.C. Circuit isn’t busy enough to need filled vacancies.

With each passing day, the “nuclear option” becomes more viable.

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