Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to confirm nearly 80 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who received up-or-down roll call votes on the Senate floor, according to an extensive Media Trackers analysis of Senate roll call votes. When voice votes and unanimous consent requests are included, McConnell’s support for Obama’s judicial nominees increases to 88 percent.
Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the Senate has held 131 roll call votes related to the president’s judicial nominees. Of those 131 votes, 122 were up-or-down confirmation votes, while another nine were to votes end filibusters on a handful of judicial nominees.
McConnell, the Senate minority leader, voted to confirm 97 of the 122 judicial nominees (79.5%) who received Senate roll call votes since January of 2009. He voted to continue seven of the nine judicial filibusters that resulted in a cloture vote since President Obama first took office.
McConnell’s support for Obama’s judicial nominees was not limited to one particular court, as he consistently voted in favor of the vast majority of Obama’s district and circuit court nominees. Nominees for the circuit courts, where federal appeals are first heard, are widely considered to be far more consequential and controversial than district court nominees.
Of the 122 up-or-down Senate confirmation votes on Obama judicial nominees, 89 were for district court judges, 31 were for circuit court judges, and two were for Supreme Court justices. McConnell voted to confirm 81 percent of Obama’s district court nominees (72 of 89) and 81 percent of his circuit court nominees (25 of 31).
McConnell voted against both of Obama’s nominees to serve on the Supreme Court. He did, however, support both of President Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. In 1993, McConnell voted to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in 1994 he voted to confirmStephen Breyer. In a 5-4 decision issued last summer, both judges ruled that the bulk of Obamacare, the president’s signature health care law, was constitutional.
Since being elected to the Senate in 2010, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — Kentucky’s junior senator — has not been nearly as supportive of President Obama’s judicial nominees. Paul voted to confirm 57 percent of Obama’s judicial nominees (50 of 87) who received up-or-down votes on the Senate floor. But unlike McConnell, who did not miss a single vote, Paul skipped 10 judicial confirmation votes. If those votes are excluded, Paul’s support for Obama’s judicial nominees rises to 65 percent. Over that same period of time, from January of 2011 through July of 2013, McConnell voted to confirm 79 percent of Obama’s judicial nominees (69 of 87).
Former Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, a Republican who retired after the 2010 elections, was also far less likely than McConnell to vote in favor of Obama’s judicial nominees. From 2009 through 2010, Bunning voted to confirm nearly 63 percent of Obama’s judges (22 of 35), compared to 80 percent for McConnell (28 of 35).
Roll call votes, however, are not the only means by which the Senate can confirm judicial nominations. The Senate can also confirm nominees via unanimous consent, where all senators unanimously agree (or refuse to object) to a judge’s confirmation without a roll call vote, or via a voice vote. With a voice vote, the preferences of individual senators are not recorded — instead, the presiding officer generally discerns whether the yeas outnumber the nays and issues a ruling on the vote’s result. Voice votes almost always result in passage of whatever motion is under consideration.
Since January of 2009, an additional 80 judicial nominations were confirmed by the Senate using these alternative methods, according to records from the SenateJudiciary Committee. Seventy-seven judges were confirmed by voice vote, and three judges were confirmed by unanimous consent. All told, the Senate has confirmed 202 of President Obama’s judicial nominees: 122 judges by roll call vote, 77 by voice vote, and 3 by unanimous consent.
If confirmations via voice vote and unanimous consent are included, then McConnell’s support for Obama’s judicial nominees increases to nearly 88 percent (177 of 202). Paul’s support would rise to 73 percent (102 of 139) using the same method.
Matt Hoskins, executive director of theSenate Conservatives Fund (SCF), a PAC that targets Senate incumbents running for re-election, said McConnell’s record of supporting judges appointed by Obama is disappointing, but not surprising.
“When Mitch McConnell is in Kentucky, he tries to portray himself as someone who stands up to Obama,” Hoskins told Media Trackers via e-mail. “But when he’s in Washington, he frequently votes to confirm Obama’s judges and pass his liberal agenda.”
“McConnell also helped Obama raise the debt limit, increase taxes, and pass funding for the implementation of Obamacare,” Hoskins concluded.
According to its website, SCF is yet to endorse either McConnell or his primary challenger, Kentucky entrepreneur Matt Bevin.
Media Trackers repeatedly reached out to McConnell’s office for comment, but a spokesman for the minority leader declined to speak on the record.
McConnell, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, is up for re-election in 2014.
A spreadsheet listing every roll call vote used in the Media Trackers vote analysis can be found here.