Senate confirms TN federal judge — first since Scalia’s death

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led Senate easily confirmed President Barack Obama’s pick for a Tennessee federal judgeship on Monday, even as the GOP maintained its blockade against considering Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy.

By a 92-0 vote, senators approved Waverly Crenshaw for the lifetime appointment, filling a vacancy in the Middle Tennessee District that officials declared a “judicial emergency” because of the number of cases pending there.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of “a concerted effort to undermine the American judiciary system.” He said they have moved far too slowly on Crenshaw’s and other judicial nominations and, as he’s repeatedly done before, attacked their refusal to consider Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.

Crenshaw, an attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, was the first judicial nomination the Senate has approved since Justice Antonin Scalia’s Feb. 13 death opened a seat on the high court. Twenty-seven of Obama’s nominees to district courts and five to the appeals court remain in limbo.

Democrats have charged that Republicans have confirmed too few nominees in the last year. Crenshaw was the 17th federal judge the chamber has approved since the GOP took control of the Senate in January 2015.

During the final two years of President George W. Bush’s administration, from January 2007 through April 11, 2008, the Senate — then run by Democrats — confirmed 55 district and circuit court judges.

In the 70 years since the end of World War II, the Senate Judiciary Committee has cleared an average of 40 federal appellate and district court judge nominations for action by the Senate annually, according to data the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service sent to Senate Democrats.

So far this year, the panel has sent three such nominations to the full Senate.

Republicans countered with statistics of their own. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Crenshaw was the 324th Obama judicial nominee confirmed since he took office in 2009 — compared with 303 approved at the same point in Bush’s presidency.

Crenshaw’s position became vacant in December 2014. Obama picked him two months later and the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the nomination last July.

Crenshaw was supported by Tennessee’s Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who pushed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to schedule a vote even as the Supreme Court fight raged. The two parties have battled bitterly since McConnell said the day Scalia died that his vacancy would remain unfilled until a new president takes office next year.

Alexander and Corker praised Crenshaw before the vote, but neither addressed Reid’s criticisms.

Crenshaw’s confirmation may be among the last in Obama’s presidency. In recent decades, the Senate has slowed — and gradually stopped — its approval of judges nominated by a president of the opposing party in the later months of a president’s final year in office.

Conservative groups have pushed McConnell to shut down the process entirely. A January memo from the advocacy group Heritage Action urged the Senate not to confirm any of Obama’s non-security nominees. “Granting any more lifetime appointments to federal judges whose views align with this president’s radical ideological agenda is indefensible,” the memo read.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said last month that he hoped the Senate would move on some nominations. But he acknowledged there won’t be any after the summer, as Obama wraps up his term and the presidential election campaign gears up.

In addition to the Tennessee senators, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who is facing a tough re-election in November, has asked for votes. Toomey wrote to Grassley earlier this year and urged the Iowa Republican to move two district judge nominees whom he is supporting.

Two other Pennsylvania district court nominees backed by Toomey and the state’s other senator, Democrat Bob Casey, are awaiting a Senate vote.