Thanks in part to the high-profile health-care summit today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee postponed votes this morning on three Indiana judicial nominees and a Bloomington law professor being considered for a key Department of Justice spot.
At an executive business meeting starting at 10 a.m., the committee chair pointed out that several members were absent because of President Barack Obama's health-care summit that started at the same time. As a result, the Republican members asked that debate and votes be postponed on Jon DeGuilio for the Northern District of Indiana, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson and Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt for the Southern District of Indiana. Also postponed for later action was the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who's been chosen to lead the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel.
While the committee had enough members to conduct business and vote, the GOP ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions from Alabama asked that more time be given to allow the senators attending the summit to be present to discuss the pending nominations before casting a vote.
"This is such an extraordinary circumstance, I'll accommodate that request," said committee chair Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt. "The president has asked for bipartisan support (on health care), and I hope we can also have bipartisan cooperation here."
The judges were first nominated in January and the committee brought the trio to Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11 for a hearing to field questions. That was before a weeklong President's Day break, which ended this week and gave the committee its first chance to consider each nominee for an up or down vote. Procedurally, members can automatically hold over any nomination for a week.
For Johnsen, this is the latest in a line of delays in her confirmation process that first began in February 2009, when the president nominated her for the seat. Republican committee members opposed her nomination and delayed a vote until March 2009, but conservative opposition continued and Johnsen never received a vote before the full Senate. Her nomination died at the end of the year, and the president re-nominated her in January. During the past month, a combination of factors - Republicans wanting more time, or not attending a meeting to prevent a quorum - has delayed action even longer. This was the fourth delay on Johnsen's nomination this year.
Committee staff members expect the judicial nominees and Johnsen to be placed on the Senate Judiciary's agenda for next week to consider whether to forward the nominees to the full Senate. No timeline exists for either the Judiciary or Senate votes in the confirmation process.