No one has challenged Patricia Millett’s qualifications. In fact she has been widely praised by lawyers from across the political spectrum. But this confirmation battle is not about fitness. It is about partisan political obstructionism. There are three vacancies on the 11-seat D.C. Circuit, but Republicans are blocking President Obama’s nominees because they want to maintain the “ideological balance” on the court, which has four judges appointed by Democratic presidents and four by Republicans.
Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley is one of the leaders of this misguided effort. Grassley believes the D.C. Circuit is underworked and should be permanently reduced to eight judges, but he makes no bones about his belief that the Obama administration is out to “stack” the D.C. court with liberals.
While Grassley’s math on the federal appeals courts’ workload comparisons may be open to debate, his “ideological balance” argument simply does not add up. Besides the eight full-time judges on that court, there are six semi-retired judges who participate in the court’s decisions. Five of those six were appointed by Republican presidents.
If ideological balance were the norm, the two parties would take turns blocking confirmations for all 11 federal appeals courts until they reach ideological parity. Yet, this has not been a concern for Grassley on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Iowa and six other Midwest states. Eight of the 11 full-time judges and three of the four semi-retired judges on that court were appointed by Republican presidents. Grassley wasn’t concerned about “ideological balance” when voting for those appointees.
Judges should be nominated and confirmed based on their abilities, not political affiliations. Presidents are elected by the people, and they have the right to appoint judges of their choosing. The Senate has a right to question their fitness but not their politics. At the very least, the Senate should give the president’s nominees an up-or-down vote. That was the Republican mantra before. It should be the mantra now.