Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear last year. Now some judicial nominations are making headway. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear last year. Now some judicial nominations are making headway. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

There's some movement on judges today, with the Senate Judiciary Committee sending 29 nominations, including five appeals court picks, to the full Senate. Most of them, and three of the five circuit court selections, were by voice vote; only two of the 29 were straight party-line votes. All of them were holdovers from last year, although fewer than half had made it this far last time around (nominations from last year’s session of the Senate had to be resubmitted and clear committee again in this session).

We’ll see, when the Senate returns in February, just how committed Republicans are to delaying and obstructing these future judges. Because the Democrats imposed majority cloture, Republicans no longer have the votes to defeat any of them, assuming -- as has been the case throughout Barack Obama’s presidency -- that Democrats solidly support all nominations. But the filibuster hasn’t been eliminated; the cloture procedures, which can eat up plenty of Senate floor time, are still in place for both judicial and the even more numerous executive-branch nominations.

Republicans are not “shutting down” the Senate; for example, they aren’t insisting that bills be read aloud. They did, however, drag out nominations back in December after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear, which meant that while Democrats were able to power through high-profile positions, lower-priority ones were held over to this year. It’s still not clear to what extent Republicans will continue to obstruct; as Twitter-based nominations maven @Mansfield2016 points out, we’ll know more after Reid tries to confirm some low-level executive-branch nominations through unanimous consent later today.

Overall, there are still almost 100 judicial vacancies, with 51 nominations pending in the Senate. So more than half of those have now advanced out of committee. The general story on judicial nominations has been better during Obama's second term, but there’s still a lot to do, and it isn't going to happen unless the White House -- and Senate Democrats -- continues to make it the high priority it should be.