WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans won’t allow a vote before November’s presidential election to confirm U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Bacharach to a federal appeals court, despite Bacharach’s credentials and support from both Oklahoma senators, Sen. Tom Coburn said Thursday.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told him Republicans were following a tradition used by both parties to block votes on circuit court nominees a few months before a presidential election.
That means a vote on Bacharach, whose nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, “is not going to happen,” Coburn said.
Coburn said the nomination of John E. Dowdell to be a U.S. district judge in Tulsa still has a “great chance” of clearing the full Senate.
Bacharach is “an awfully good candidate” for the circuit court position, said Coburn, who praised his character and judicial temperament. Bacharach, who has been a magistrate judge in Oklahoma City since 1999, was given a rating of “unanimously well qualified” for the appeals court position by the American Bar Association.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, praised Bacharach during a committee hearing last month.
But the selection and confirmation process moved too slowly to fill the vacancy on the appeals court — which is a step below the U.S. Supreme Court — given the political timetable in Washington.
Though the position has been open since July 2010, the White House didn’t make a nomination until January, after spending months vetting candidates that weren’t going to be acceptable to Coburn and Inhofe.
Then, it took more than three months to schedule a committee hearing for Bacharach as the staff conducted a background investigation; Coburn withheld his approval for a committee hearing until the committee investigation was completed.
Ultimately, Bacharach may have just narrowly missed a full Senate vote. The Senate this week, over the objections of most Republicans, confirmed a nominee from Arizona for another circuit court. After that vote, McConnell told Republican senators no other votes on circuit judges would be held.
McConnell’s office declined to comment on Thursday.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday, “This is really a challenge to the senators who have said that they will not support these filibusters and this kind of shutdown, and to those Republican senators who support the circuit court nominees from Maine and Oklahoma.”
But Coburn said there wasn’t anything he could do about the situation.
The delaying tactic on circuit court judges, which will likely extend to district court judges later this year, has become common practice for the party that doesn’t control the White House
This year, it means Republicans will block votes on nominees for appeals courts, which can have great influence on a wide range of legal issues since the Supreme Court agrees to hear relatively few cases.
The aim of the tactic is to delay making lifetime appointments to federal courts in hopes their party will regain the White House and the power to fill judicial vacancies.
Coburn said Bacharach could be cleared late this year if President Barack Obama wins re-election. If not, Coburn said, Bacharach would make a great nominee for a Republican president.