Senator Jeff Flake (R – AZ) is retiring from the Senate this January, but not before attempting to block the confirmation of his own party’s judicial nominees in the remaining lame duck session. Why? Sen. Flake wants to make sure that President Trump can’t fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller before the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation into allegations of Russian influence in the 2016 elections. His plan is to hold hostage, to the extent he’s able, the 53 judicial nominees already in the Senate’s confirmation pipeline.
There are currently 122 vacancies in the federal judicial system, or 14% of all judgeships. That is a higher percentage of openings at this point in the President’s second year than the five previous presidents at a similar point in their administrations. Blocking confirmation of critically needed judges only delays justice for litigants in the federal court system; it has nothing at all to do with Robert Mueller’s investigation. Justice delayed is justice denied.
It’s no secret that Flake and the President have not exactly gotten along over the last two years. Sen. Flake’s public comments and legislative actions often reflect this tension and disagreement over issues. He’s threatened to hold judges hostage at least once before to block the President’s agenda.
Even Flake’s retirement has further combatted the President’s pro-life agenda, as the seat was lost in the mid-term elections, flipping it from a safe pro-life Senate seat to a pro-abortion seat.
Sen. Flake’s apparent desire to block the President’s agenda also surfaced during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings when he joined with Democrats on the Judiciary Committee in demanding a time-wasting FBI investigation into what proved to be unverified and uncorroborated charges of sexual assault brought by several women against Kavanaugh. As you know, even some of the accusers have since recanted their claims.
Sen. Flake’s ongoing misgivings regarding the President flared up recently with the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, along with the President’s interim appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting Attorney General. Flake told the Senate in no uncertain terms this week that he believes the President intends to use Whitaker to fire Mueller. Flake is demanding a Senate floor vote on a pending bill designed to insulate Mueller’s probe from termination, S. 2644 (the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act) and says he won’t vote for any judicial nominees until his demands are met. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused the demand, asserting that there’s no reason to believe the legislation is even needed.
Whether the legislation is necessary or not, Senator Flake’s intransigence regarding the President has taken an ill-conceived turn. Flake himself has supported appointing constitutionalist judges who will interpret the laws as written and not legislate from the bench.Yet he is once again treating that critically important agenda as a mere bargaining chip to block whatever he fears the President may be up to.
Judges are too important to use them as pawns for political grudges. Sen. Flake should use his remaining time in the Senate to help confirm as many judges as possible, which will in turn benefit the rule of law and the administration of justice.
McConnell told our Focus on the Family radio audience earlier this year that the Trump Administration had been the most productive for conservative appointments of all his thirty-three years in Washington. That means that pre-born babies are safer, religious freedom is more protected and ultimately, the Constitution is in better hands. Senator Flake apparently wants to bring all that to a halt.