WASHINGTON — Leaders in Oklahoma's legal community urged the state's U.S. senators on Thursday to use their “considerable influence” to break a Republican blockade that is preventing a Senate vote on an Oklahoman nominated for a federal appeals court vacancy.
A letter from attorneys who represent Oklahoma with the American Bar Association also urges Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe to announce publicly their willingness to vote on Robert E. Bacharach's nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The letter was signed by Jimmy Goodman, Oklahoma's delegate to the American Bar Association, and nine others, including Cathy M. Christensen, president of the Oklahoma Bar Association. It seeks a vote on Bacharach before lawmakers leave for a monthlong recess in August. The nomination was made in January.
Neither senator provided a response late Thursday.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Inhofe, R-Tulsa, strongly support Bacharach's nomination, which cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 7. Bacharach, who is now a federal magistrate judge in Oklahoma City, received the highest rating from the American Bar Association.
But Senate Republicans have refused to allow full Senate votes in the last few weeks on nominees for circuit courts — which can wield considerable influence since they are just one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.
Blocking circuit court nominees is a tactic commonly used in presidential election years by senators in the party that doesn't control the White House; the goal is to delay confirmations for lifetime appointments in hopes that their party will regain the White House and the power to fill judicial vacancies.
“We understand that both political parties have engaged in a variety of stalling tactics, including the threat of a filibuster, regarding judicial nominations in the past,” the letter to Coburn and Inhofe states.
“However, this ignores the fact that this Oklahoma slot on the Tenth Circuit has now been vacant for over two years.”
The position has been vacant since Robert Henry stepped down in July 2010 to become president of Oklahoma City University.
The American Bar Association sent a letter last month to the Senate's Republican and Democratic leaders asking the Senate to schedule votes on Bacharach and nominees for two other circuit courts.
Carl Tobias, a law-school professor at the University of Richmond who follows the judicial nomination process, said Thursday that Bacharach would be overwhelmingly confirmed in the Senate if a vote were held. He said he thinks the Oklahoma senators could round up five more Republican votes to break the GOP logjam.