WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday cleared two Oklahoma federal judicial nominees for a full Senate vote, but Sen. Tom Coburn said presidential politics could prevent the Senate from confirming both this year.
Robert E. Bacharach, a U.S. magistrate judge in Oklahoma City, was approved by the committee for a seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is a step below the U.S. Supreme Court.
John E. Dowdell, a Tulsa attorney, was approved for a district judgeship.
The Oklahoma nominations are not controversial, and both of Oklahoma's Republican senators support them. Still, Senate Republican leaders will have to agree to allow their nominations to come up for a vote in the full Senate, and Coburn said he didn't expect that to happen for Bacharach.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, said he spoke to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, on Thursday about the nominations. McConnell told Coburn that he plans for Senate Republicans to discuss their approach to judicial nominations early next week.
Coburn, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Bacharach could become a victim of a delaying tactic on judicial nominations sometimes used in presidential election years by the party that doesn't control the White House.
This year, it could mean that Republicans block votes on nominees for appeals courts, which can have great influence on a wide range of legal issues. The aim of the tactic is to delay making lifetime appointments to courts in hopes that their party will regain the White House and the power to fill judicial vacancies.
“I think it's stupid,” Coburn said in an interview, adding that the goal should be to confirm good judges.
Coburn said he told Bacharach personally that he might not get through the Senate confirmation process this year.
Coburn said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had also practiced the tactic.
But Leahy on Wednesday cited a new report by the Congressional Research Service that said the Senate had confirmed 28 district and circuit judges in the last few months of former President George W. Bush's first term and 22 in the last few months of his second term. Leahy said Republicans blocked votes in the last months of former President Bill Clinton's first and second terms.
Leahy said Republicans are now blocking votes on four other circuit court nominees.
The appeals court seat for which Bacharach has been nominated has been vacant since July 2010, when Robert Henry stepped down to become president of Oklahoma City University.
The White House spent months vetting potential nominees that weren't going to be acceptable to Coburn or Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, even though the support of home-state senators is crucial to confirmation. President Barack Obama didn't nominate Bacharach until early this year.
Coburn submitted written statements to the committee on Thursday praising both Bacharach and Dowdell.
“I believe that Judge Bacharach will uphold the highest standards and reflect the best in our American judicial tradition by coming to the bench as a well-regarded member of the community,” Coburn said. “At a time when our country seems as divided as ever, it is important that citizens respect members of the judiciary and are confident they will faithfully and impartially apply the law.”