GOP senator tries to end standoff, fill federal judge post

Faced with an impasse resulting from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) unilateral breach of a successful agreement on judicial nominations, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) proposed a plan last week that would allow the state to move forward in the selection of Wisconsin’s next federal judge.

Selecting federal judges to fill vacancies within a particular state is the task of that state’s U.S. senators.

In 2013, both signed a compact that established bipartisan oversight of a judicial commission, carrying out a formal procedure to identify potential nominees. The process has been quite successful, filling a judicial emergency in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, as well as an open seat in the Eastern District.

To ensure that the process remains bipartisan and that the senators nominate judges who are actually qualified, instead of candidates with extremist views, the senators, via the compact, each selected three commissioners and required that any candidate given a final recommendation to the senators must have the support of at least five of those six commissioners. Thirteen candidates applied for the vacancy in Wisconsin’s Seventh Circuit. Eight of those were selected by the commission to interview, but only two received the support of at least five commissioners.

After the senators went back and forth over the size of the applicant pool, Baldwin unilaterally breached the terms of the compact, submitting every candidate who received an interview from the commission to the White House, instead of only the two who secured five commission votes. Many of those applicants received very limited or no support from any of the commissioners.

“It is unfortunate that Senator Baldwin chose partisanship and politics over what is in the best interest of the people of Wisconsin,” Johnson said. “However, I remain committed to the process that has been highly successful, and I agree that, even with a decreasing caseload, it is time to fill the Seventh Circuit seat. I have, therefore, informed the White House that I will continue vetting and will consider supporting either of the two candidates who received bipartisan support from our judicial commission.”
Last week, in spite of the breach of the compact and violation of confidentiality by Baldwin, Johnson told the Obama administration that he is still willing to consider and continue to support the appointment of either of the two applicants who actually received the necessary five votes from the bipartisan commission. Johnson also made it clear that he believed that by releasing the names of the candidates who did not qualify, Baldwin was risking those candidates’ reputations.

“I encourage the White House and Senator Baldwin to take this recommendation seriously and to refrain from further obstruction of this process,” Johnson said.