Jesse Furman, 39, a federal prosecutor in New York who clerked for Bush administration Attorney General Mike Mukasey and had sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee five months ago only to be blocked from his appointment by President Obama to serve as a judge for the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York, finally won Senate approval on Friday.
Furman’s confirmation, coupled with the nearly-unanimous approval a day earlier of another Obama nominee, Cuban-born Adalberto Jordan, suggests that congressional Republicans might be rethinking their strategy of lock-step obstruction of the president’s judicial nominations, which many argue has led to a vacancy crisis.
Both of the confirmed nominees had personal ties to the Republican Party, however, and celebrating their confirmations as ushering in a new era of bipartisan cooperation would be a mistake.
“I think what’s going on is that the Republican obstruction just can’t stand the light of day,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program at People for the American Way. “What the Furman vote shows is that the mindless obstruction by Republicans is not sustainable and the public does not want to see this. They’re starting to realize they have to do the job they were sent there to do.”
Baker expressed cautious optimism about the daylight on judicial confirmations, especially since an agreement was reached to hold a vote on the nomination of Margo Brodie, a New York City prosecutor, when the Senate returns later this month.
“We’re not out of the woods, there’s still 20 nominees [held up] and 10 of those have been classified as emergency vacancies,” she said. “15 of the 20 left on the calendar are women or people of color.”
Furman’s nomination was virulently opposed by the religious right, which wildly accused him of “anti-Christian bigotry and judicial activism.” Following the unanimous approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall, his nomination was put on hold by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), evidently for ideological reasons. But Furman had worked closely with Republicans in the Bush White House and won support from neoconservatives in the Senate such as Republicans Jon Kyl, John McCain, and Lindsay Graham. The final roll-call vote that broke the hold on his nomination was 62-34.
Jordan received even greater support, earning 94 “yea” votes and facing only token opposition from Tea Party firebrands like South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Crucially, he earned the backing of another Tea Party favorite, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, himself a Cuban-American.