WASHINGTON - After a monthslong blockade, Senate Republicans have agreed to let at least 19 of President Obama's judicial nominees win confirmation in the waning days of the congressional session in exchange for a commitment from Democrats not to seek votes on four others, according to officials familiar with the deal.
Among the four is Goodwin Liu, seen as a potential future Supreme Court pick, whose nomination is to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.
Liu, a dean at the University of California law school at Berkeley, has drawn staunch opposition from Republicans for his sharp criticism of Justice Samuel Alito's nomination to the high court by President George W. Bush.
As part of the arrangement, the Senate has approved 10 judges in the last few days without a single dissenting vote. One, Albert Diaz, had been awaiting confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., since clearing the Judiciary Committee in January.
In addition to the 10 nominees confirmed since Thursday, the Senate is expected to approve at least nine more before lawmakers adjourn for the year. All have been pending in the Senate since Sept. 23 or before.
The agreement was worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, with the knowledge of the White House, officials said. Spokesmen for the two declined to comment.
Reid also pushed for confirmation of James Cole, whom Obama picked in the spring for the No. 2 post in the Justice Department. His nomination to be deputy attorney general is opposed by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and its fate is unclear.
Officials described the maneuvering on condition of anonymity. Judicial nominations have become intensely political as interest groups have become involved.
Democrats filibustered several of Bush's conservative nominees, refusing to allow a vote on some for years. The logjam was broken in spring 2005 in a compromise that allowed some to be confirmed while a smaller number were jettisoned.
Democrats have accused Republicans of delaying confirmation of even noncontroversial Obama nominees by not permitting them to come to a vote without a time-consuming process than can take three days on the Senate floor.
Over the weekend, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said 49 of Obama's circuit and district court nominations had been approved so far, "less than half the number confirmed during the first Congress of the Bush administration."
The Senate has confirmed both of Obama's nominees to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The unconfirmed nominations will expire when Congress adjourns for the year. Obama is free to reappoint them, but Republicans will have more seats in the Senate in 2011, and there is no assurance the most disputed among them would be approved.
Apart from Liu, they include Edward Chen, Louis B. Butler Jr., and John J. McConnell Jr., all nominated to U.S. district courts.