U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, recently gave the label “stupid” to his own Republican Senate leadership's plan to delay pending judicial nominations in the hopes that the White House will change parties after the fall election. The senator is right.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Bacharach is a well-qualified Obama nominee for the 10th Circuit appellate court vacancy. Bacharach has the support of Sens. Coburn and Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Coburn is correct that it is stupid — for both parties — to put an election-year freeze on nominations to the federal courts. Almost one in 10 federal judicial slots is empty, one reason litigation is frustratingly long. Political machinations are why many qualified nominees have no interest in judicial appointments.
Both parties have engaged in this tactic. However, Oklahomans have a relatively good record of working together, even in presidential election years. Former Sen. David Boren helped get U.S. District Judge Tim Leonard, a George H.W. Bush nominee, confirmed in August 1992, when Bill Clinton was leading in some polls. Leonard was a qualified candidate, but he was also a Republican politician. Boren, a Democrat, could have let that nomination die, but he helped push it through. It was the right thing to do.
Granted, a 10th Circuit slot is different from a district court opening. The slowdown on circuit nominees starts earlier in presidential election years. However, this 10th Circuit position has been open for nearly two years, when Judge Robert Henry resigned to take the helm at Oklahoma City University. Further, Henry announced his plans six months in advance, in December 2009.