WASHINGTON — Three months after President Barack Obama nominated federal magistrate Judge Robert E. Bacharach for a long-vacant seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Tom Coburn has yet to give approval for a Senate hearing.
Bacharach, of Edmond, has received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and has been vetted by the U.S. Justice Department and the White House. He has handled more than 3,000 civil and criminal matters as a magistrate judge in Oklahoma City.
The Senate Judiciary Committee won't hold a hearing for a judicial nominee unless the two home-state senators give their consent by returning “blue slips,” a long-standing committee tradition.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-
Coburn, R-Muskogee, a member of the committee, has withheld his consent for hearings for Bacharach and Dowdell.
In a statement, Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said Coburn was waiting on the Senate Judiciary Committee before giving his consent for hearings for Bacharach and Dowdell.
“Per regular order, Dr. Coburn will return the blue slip once the committee review of Judge Bacharach and Mr. Dowdell's nomination materials is complete,” Bernhardt said.
“These are lifetime appointments; thus, the Senate has a duty to conduct a careful review of their nominations before proceeding. Based on the initial review of their records, they both appear to be qualified candidates who have earned the respect of their colleagues in the Oklahoma legal community.”
Erica Chabot, spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, suggested in an emailed statement that the committee was waiting on Coburn. She said the committee “will not begin to consider scheduling a hearing on the nominee until both blue slips are returned; when that happens, we take the final steps to schedule a hearing.”
Two years vacant
Oklahoma City attorney Mike Turpen, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has long been involved in Democratic politics, gave the name of Bacharach and others to Coburn last summer as potential candidates for the 10th Circuit spot, which has been vacant for nearly two years.
Turpen said Coburn assured him that he wants the 10th Circuit seat filled as quickly as possible and was not trying to “run out the clock” before the presidential election.
“I don't want to sound naive, but I take the U.S. senator at his word,” Turpen said last week. “I still feel that.”
Turpen talked to Coburn about possible picks for the appeals court after it became clear that Coburn didn't want the White House to nominate Janet Levit, the dean of the University of Tulsa law school, who was being vetted for the position.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is a step below the U.S. Supreme Court and hears cases from Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico.
AT A GLANCE
Some hearings come quickly
The time between nomination and a committee hearing varies.
However, nine of the 14 people nominated for circuit court positions in the past 12 months have had a hearing within two months of their nomination. The same day Judge Robert E. Bacharach was nominated for the 10th circuit post — Jan. 23 — President Barack Obama also named a nominee for the First Circuit court; that nominee had a hearing March 14.
The last time there was an Oklahoman nominated for a 10th Circuit opening, the process moved much quicker. In 2006, former President George W. Bush, a Republican, nominated Oklahoma City attorney Jerome Holmes for an open seat on the court, and Holmes' hearing was held five weeks later, with the support of Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe.
Holmes had no judicial experience. Bacharach has been a U.S. magistrate judge in the western district of Oklahoma since 1999.
Tulsa attorney John Dowdell was nominated for the federal judgeship in Tulsa after opposition from Coburn and Inhofe forced the White House to withdraw the nomination of federal prosecutor Arvo Mikkanen.