Sri Srinivasan recently became the first nominee in seven years to win Senate confirmation to sit on the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He fills the vacancy resulting from John Roberts moving up to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court, yes, an opening dating to the George W. Bush years.
Srinivasan served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, winning high marks from all sides. He most lately served as deputy solicitor general under President Obama. Yet even his nomination took a year to reach a final vote, confirmation coming 97-0. Now the D.C. appeals court has three of 11 seats vacant.
Why has it taken so long to fill the openings? The stakes are high, the court often considered the second most important in the country, four of the current Supreme Court justices coming from the bench. The appeals court frequently weighs matters of policy, for instance, in recent rulings involving presidential recess appointments and financial regulation. Yet, most telling has been Republican obstruction.
Caitlin Halligan and Goodwin Liu, two nominees with outstanding credentials, were caricatured, labeled as too liberal, their nominations eventually abandoned. Republicans insist they have done nothing that Democrats didn’t do in similar circumstances. Sure enough, Democrats practiced their own brand of obstruction.
What Republicans have done in recent years is take the practice to a new level, applying the filibuster in record numbers and devising other tactics for delay, for instance, the nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency facing 1,100 written questions.
Now, regarding the D.C. appeals court, the White House has signaled its intention to put forward three nominees at once. That would be something of a departure for a president who has been slow with nominations. At the same time, Republicans have countered with the unwise suggestion of reducing the size of the court, shifting the three vacancies to other appeals courts.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, even claimed that the “whole purpose” of the president is “to stack the court.” Not really. The court has vacancies, and it is the president’s job to make nominations. Senators have the important role of advise and consent, especially for lifetime appointments. Still, it shouldn’t take seven years to fill a position — or anything close to that long.