Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

WASHINGTON - When Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained on Thursday there had been too few Senate votes this year on the president's judicial nominees, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) defended the pace and said, "So put that in your pipe and smoke it, senator from New York."

The exchange on the Senate floor drew laughter for the colorful back and forth.

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But Schumer still failed to get a vote on three New York federal judge candidates -- including two for courts covering Long Island -- that he tried to push through before the August recess begins next week.

Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which vets judicial nominees, refused to allow the vote despite Schumer's plea.

Schumer sought to fast track a vote for New York County Supreme Court Judge Ann Donnelly and LaShann Moutique DeArcy Hall, a partner at the Manhattan firm Morrison & Foerster, for seats on the Eastern District of New York courts; and for Joseph Vilardo, a partner at the Buffalo firm Connors & Vilardo, for the Western District of New York courts.

Republicans and Democrats have battled for years over confirmations of their presidents' choices for lifetime jobs on the bench, where law is interpreted and shaped through their rulings. Both parties resort to a numbers game of how many judges were confirmed under each other's control of the Senate.

So it was on Thursday.

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Standing by a chart showing Democrats hold votes on 25 Bush nominees for judges by the end of July in 2007, Schumer said, "More than a half a year into this new Congress, the Republican leadership has scheduled votes on only five federal judges. It's July, they've scheduled votes on five federal judges." He called that "a disgrace."

Grassley replied that the Senate had confirmed 313 of Obama's picks for the court since he became president, compared with 283 of Bush's choices at this point in his tenure.

"At the end of last year, the Senate rammed through 11 judges, which under regular order should have been considered at the beginning of this Congress," Grassley said.

"Had we not confirmed those 11 judicial nominations during the lame duck, we'd be roughly at the same place we were for judicial confirmations this year compared to 2007," Grassley continued. "So put that in your pipe and smoke it, senator from New York. So we are moving at a reasonable pace."

Schumer let the argument end and gave up control of the floor. "Without smoke, I yield," he said.

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Obama has had more confirmations of judicial nominees than Bush, but he also has had more vacancies, data show.

According to the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group that keeps accurate count, at this point in their presidencies the Senate had confirmed 84 percent of Bush's judicial nominees (282 of 335) while it has approved 90 percent of Obama's candidates (310 of 346).

But according to the U.S. Courts, Bush had 50 vacancies to fill at this point in his term - and 17 were considered to be judicial emergencies. Obama at this point has 63 vacancies to fill, 28 of them judicial emergencies.

Yet while Bush had 26 nominees waiting for action by the Senate to fill those 50 vacancies, Obama has 17 nominees pending for the 63 vacancies he must attend to. 

Obama announced in an email this afternoon that he is nominating 10 more men and women for judicial vacancies, including one on the Eastern District of New York that covers Long Island and three New York City boroughs. The nominee is Judge Gary Richard Brown.

Newsday's Robert Kessler wrote about Schumer's recommendation of Brown on June 18.

"Gary Brown, a Long Islander with a career as a private attorney, prosecutor and federal magistrate, was recommended Thursday by Sen. Charles Schumer to be a U.S. District Court judge on Long Island.

"Brown, 51, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Columbia University and Yale Law School, is probably best known for his 2014 decision as a magistrate who uncovered possible underpayment or unfair denial of claims for superstorm Sandy victims.

"The nomination is up to President Barack Obama, but the White House usually follows the recommendation of a senator from the president's party. Confirmation is up to the Senate.

"Brown, who was raised in Elmont and lives in Setauket, would replace Judge Sandra Feuerstein, who took senior status in May, in the Central Islip court. Schumer said he and his selection committee could not praise Brown's legal career too highly, but his Sandy decisions 'sealed the deal.'"