Conservatives are ratcheting up the Senate’s judicial wars, with a deep-pocketed group launching a new seven-figure ad campaign hitting Democrats for delaying confirmation of President Donald Trump’s judges.
The Judicial Crisis Network will launch a $1 million ad buy on Saturday, according to officials familiar with the effort. The ad will run on CNN, Fox News and airport channels that might be seen by traveling senators returning from recess next week.
The air support comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview that confirming conservative judges is his “top priority in the Senate.” The majority leader is set to confirm six more Circuit Court judges this month, which would add up to 21 of Trump’s Circuit Court nominees — part of McConnell’s longtime bid to reshape the courts.
Senate Democrats cannot block those judges, but they can delay each of them more than a day under Senate rules. And JCN’s ad buy is specifically calling them out for using Senate rules to drag out judicial confirmations, a tactic also used by Republicans when they were in the minority under President Barack Obama.
“President Trump and Senate Republicans have confirmed a record number of exceptionally qualified judges who will follow the law and uphold the Constitution. Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer... want to stop that progress so that liberal extremists can maintain control of our court,” said JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino.
The 30-second ad flashes photos of incumbent Democrats up for reelection in Trump-won states as well as Democratic leaders, blaming them for stopping “extroardinary qualified judges who follow the law.”
“Senate Democrats want to stop that progress to keep liberal judges in control. So they’re obstructing, playing games, instead of voting on nominees,” the ad says.
Demand Justice, a new liberal group founded as a counterweight to JCN, wants Democrats “to laugh off these ads and show some backbone.”
“The reason Donald Trump has so many vacancies to fill now is because so many Senate Republicans unilaterally blocked Obama's picks for many of these same seats. The right has no standing whatsoever to complain about obstruction,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of the group and a former aide to Schumer and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Under Senate rules, any one senator can delay each judge by up to 30 hours. Republicans have crafted a proposal that would allow faster confirmation of judges, although it is unclear if they will implement it this year.
Republicans are intent on confirming as many judges as they can this year with the Senate hanging in the balance in November. With McConnell’s razor-thin majority, confirming judges to lifetime appointments is also the most tangible thing he can do with just 51 senators and a caucus divided on major policy issues. In combination with McConnell’s work blocking Obama’s nominees during his last two years as president, including Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, the GOP leader is slowly but surely skewing the nation’s courts in a rightward direction.
“What I want to do is make a lasting contribution to the country. And by appointing and confirming these strict constructionists to the courts who are in their late 40s or early 50s... we’re making a generational change in our country that will be repeated over and over and over down through the years,” he said on Hewitt’s show.
McConnell is close to surpassing the number of Circuit Court judges confirmed during the first two years of the George W. Bush presidency already, and he said his goal is to confirm every judge that comes out of the Judiciary Committee before this Congress ends on December 31.
After spending millions to block Garland and confirm Trump’s Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, JCN’s Severino said the organization is “committed to doing whatever necessary to end the Democratic obstruction” on lower court nominees.
Democrats said Republicans are trying to have it both ways: Complaining about Democratic obstruction while also “bragging about the pace of judicial confirmations,” said a senior Democratic aide.