October 29, 2013

Our View: Court vote will be test of post-shutdown D.C.

Sens. Collins and King should vote to let three important nominations move to a vote.

When the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff ended earlier this month, many Americans felt a sense of relief that something had changed in Washington.

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Senators should not filibuster the nomination of the three proposed judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit.

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The extremists were no longer running the show. Members of both parties were able to put aside their differences long enough to agree that they needed to fund the federal government and pay the nation’s debts. The grown-ups were in charge.

We may find as soon as this week whether that sense of optimism was justified. A vote in the U.S. Senate on whether to bring a judicial nomination to the floor for a debate will test whether the government will function, or if we are still living in the age of obstruction. When that occurs, we urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to vote to bring the nomination forward.

The vote will be on the nomination of Patricia Millett to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It is sometimes thought of as the nation’s second highest court, where many key federal regulations are reviewed, and its judges are often tapped to fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is currently balanced evenly between judges named by Democratic and Republican presidents after an Obama appointee was confirmed this year, but Republican senators have used the filibuster to keep President Obama from filling the other vacancies. Sen. King has been critical of the overuse of filibusters and has advocated rules changes that would make them less frequent. Sen. Collins’ record is more complicated.

She has participated in some of the filibusters of judicial appointees, and argued that these justices would be better used on courts other than the D.C. Circuit. She has pointed out that Democrats used the same argument to block a nominee by President George W. Bush. But Collins also wrote in a newspaper column that her position on the size of the court would not prevent her from considering these nominees based on their merits. That is the right position and the way she should vote on the question of letting the Millett nomination move forward.

Senators have every right to argue about a nominee’s qualifications or ideology, but they should not use procedural rules to prevent the government from functioning. That’s the principle that ended the government shutdown, and it applies here as well.

Senate extremists should not be allowed to shut down the nomination process and slow down the courts. It’s again time for the grown-ups to take charge.

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