A dispute in the U.S. Senate over President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees threatens to snag the appointment of the first Cuban-born judge to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The U.S. Senate is scheduled this afternoon to vote on Adalberto Jose Jordan, a Miami federal judge who was confirmed unanimously last year by the Senate Judiciary committee and has the support of Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican.
No one has any ideological objections to Jordan, a well-regarded judge who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
But a Utah senator who objects to the way Obama has been appointing federal nominees has said he’ll vote against Jordan’s confirmation. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has vowed to vote against or hold up all of Obama’s nominees — even those from Utah — in response to a recess appointment by the president. Lee objects in particular to Obama’s appointment in January of Richard Cordray, the director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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"This president has enjoyed my cooperation up to this point," Lee said last week in voting against a separate judicial nominee. "I’ve voted for many if not most of his nominees. That cooperation can’t continue, not in the same way that he has enjoyed it up until this point in light of the fact he has disrespected our authority, within this body. He’s disrespected the Constitution."
Often, judicial nominees are approved under unanimous consent, which means there’s no full vote on them. If a senator objects to a nominee, however, it can be difficult to get a floor vote on their confirmation. In Jordan’s case, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has called for a cloture vote, meaning he must have the approval of 60 senators to move forward to a full vote on Jordan’s nomination.
Reid is expected to have more than enough senators approve a full vote, and the final confirmation could come this evening or Tuesday. Although many Republicans continue to seethe over Cordray’s recess appointment, only a handful have joined Lee in his protest votes against Obama appointees. Last week, only five other senators joined him in voting against a judicial nominee from California, Cathy Ann Bencivengo.
But many court watchers say that Republicans have been dragging their feet on Obama’s judicial appointments since the president took office, and not just because of the Cordray recess appointment. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the average circuit court nominee was confirmed by the full Senate within 30 days of clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Paul Gordon of People for the American Way.
For Obama’s nominees, it’s a 136-day average, Gordon said. They expect Jordan to be confirmed by the Senate, Gordon said, but find the objections ridiculous given the judge’s qualifications: "The Republicans have been slow walking every judicial nominee since Obama got into office," he said.
If confirmed, Jordan would move to the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which decides the major federal legal disputes of Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Jordan was born in Havana and his family fled to the United States in 1968 when he was 7. He attended the University of Miami and its law school. He applied to all nine U.S. Supreme Court justices for a clerkship in 1987. O’Connor granted him an interview — she picked him and three others from a field of 10. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton.