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Johnson And Baldwin Back At Odds Over Appeals Court Nomination

Johnson Accuses Baldwin Of Breaking Agreement, Playing Politics

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Republican Sen. Ron Johnson says his Democratic counterpart in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate delegation has violated a bipartisan agreement on nominating judges to fill a long-standing vacancy on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Johnson said Sen. Tammy Baldwin bypassed the commission the two had agreed would vet all judicial nominees. He said Baldwin didn’t like the two names the commission approved, so she sent the names of eight nominees to the president instead.

“Senator Baldwin blew up the process by violating the contract and violating the confidentiality. And I think she did it for purely partisan, political purposes,” said Johnson.

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Baldwin said Johnson’s refusal to join her in forwarding all the nominees will further delay filling a judgeship that has been vacant for more than five years.

Brookings Institution judicial expert Russell Wheeler said it appears the GOP is trying to put the brakes on President Barack Obama’s success in shifting the balance on the federal appellate court bench from one dominated by Republican appointees to one where Democratic choices now hold the majority of seats.

Wheeler said it was roughly a 60-40 split in favor of Republican-appointed judges in the U.S. Courts of Appeals when Obama took office. It’s now closer to a 55-45 split in favor of Democratic appointments.

Under U.S. Senate rules, the Judiciary Committee won’t consider any nominee that doesn’t have the support of both of the two home state senators. That means if Johnson thinks the nominee the president chooses is too liberal, he can single-handedly block the nomination.

According to Wheeler, up until the last two decades, home state senators from opposite parties were more willing to exercise partisan courtesy and simply agree to accept the nominee the president wanted. Wheeler said senators realized that the party in the White House would change and the courtesy would be offered by the opposition party at that time. However, he said that tradition appears to have been abandoned.