WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to slow down nomination hearings to give time to confirm pending nominees.
There are currently 23 nominees awaiting final votes in the Senate. Some, as in the case of Caitlin Halligan of Washington, D.C., have been waiting more than 400 days for a vote.
The committee on Nov. 16 met and decided to slow down the nomination hearings.
Eastern panhandle Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh was approved to the federal court in October. Charleston attorney Stephanie Thacker was approved to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last month as well.
"I think that the Senate will confirm Groh in 2011 because she is well qualified, noncontroversial and has strong support of her home state senators," said Carl Tobias, a Williams Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Tobias said four district nominees whom the Senate Judiciary Committee approved before Groh will have votes after Dec. 5, most likely in the second week of December.
"After that, Groh could receive a vote any time the Democrats and the GOP agree," Tobias said.
As for Thacker's Fourth Circuit appointment, Tobias said the timeframe is the question.
"The dynamics are different for the appeals court appointments," he said. "On the appeals courts, they've been slower on the votes. It's less clear to me about the time."
Last year, he said, the Senate confirmed a handful of appeals court nominees in December. But this year, they have confirmed about one a month or so.
"If December of this year is like what happened last year, she would be among the ones approved," Tobias said. "But she's behind three or four people right now. If they are slow, it could go into 2012. It's just not clear."
At the Nov. 16 hearing, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) requested to slow down their schedule for the remainder of the year.
"At his request, I have agreed not to hold another nominations hearing this month after today, although our agreement would call for another hearing on Nov. 30," Leahy said. "I am also accommodating him by scheduling only one nominations hearing in December, despite the fact that the Senate is likely to be in session for more than three weeks."
The hearing schedule Grassley and Leahy have worked out provides the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate with the opportunity before they adjourn in December to consider and confirm the nominations they will consider in all of their hearings.
"There are 23 judicial nominees stalled before the Senate awaiting consent from the Senate Republican leadership for final consideration," Leahy said. "Most were approved by all Republican and Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee unanimously."
Leahy said there are four additional judicial nominees who can be reported by the Judiciary Committee by mid-December who participated in their hearings in November.
"Senate action on those 27 nominees before adjournment would go a long way to helping resolve the longstanding judicial vacancies that are delaying justice for so many Americans in our Federal courts across the country," Leahy said.
Tobias said the Senate has agreed to vote on a few judges, including Groh, in the order of their votes out of the Senate Judiciary Committee except for controversial nominees.
"My best guess is a strong floor vote in December," he said. "If that does not happen, the Senate will confirm her in early 2012."