Senate Republicans Nov. 18 blocked confirmation of Judge Robert Wilkins, an African-American U.S. District Ct judge President Obama had nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the Republican Party’s latest move to turn aside the president’s judicial and executive branch choices.
The progress of the nomination was blocked by a 53-48 vote against invoking cloture. Cloture is the only way the Senate can place a time limit or cease continued consideration of a bill or other matter. Once the cloture vote was lost, the Wilkins nomination under the rules of the Senate could not proceed. The Senate rules require 60 votes for a cloture vote to prevail against continued inaction involving a bill or matter.
Because Senate Democrats hold a slender majority, the measure failed due to the absence of crossover Republican votes.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), one of the two Black members of the Senate exercised his opposition to the Wilkins nomination by voting against cloture. Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), the other African American in the Senate chamber, supported the Wilkins nomination by voting in favor of cloture. The cloture vote was executed generally along party lines.
Race was raised as a motivating factor in the vote against Wilkins, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said minutes after the Senate vote. “I certainly think it had some impact,” said Fudge at a press conference flanked by fellow CBC members and Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“It is clear who they are keeping out of judicial nominations and other positions that we know have to be filled for the government to run effectively.
“You have to ask them what their motives are,” Fudge said. “All I know is what I see.”
The action against Wilkins follows a similar Senate vote recently against the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), a CBC member, to take the helm of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Cardin echoed Fudge’s assertion that race was a factor, noting Wilkins’ legal suit against racial profiling after members of his family were victimized by Maryland state troopers in 1993, triggering executive action against the practice and subsequent legislative proposals to prohibit racial profiling.
“And I’m hopeful that we’ll pass a national law against racial profiling,” Cardin said.
Although all the votes against action on the nomination came from Republicans, two GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted in favor of ending Senate resistance to the Wilkins nomination.
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