Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Alaska Sen. Murkowski Breaks With GOP On Judicial Nominee Vote
Murkowski said her decision to vote for cloture in the filibuster of Goodwin Liu followed her long-standing belief that judicial nominees should receive an up-or-down vote.
FAIRBANKS — Sen. Lisa Murkowski bucked Republican party leadership on Thursday, voting alone among GOP senators to end the filibuster of a controversial judicial nominee.
Murkowski said her decision to vote for cloture in the filibuster of Goodwin Liu followed her long-standing belief that judicial nominees should receive an up-or-down vote. She was part of the so-called Gang of 14, a group of senators who agreed six years ago not to filibuster judicial nominees unless there were “extraordinary circumstances.”
Murkowski said she would have voted against Liu’s nomination if it had reached the Senate floor.
“While I don’t like (Liu’s) politics, that didn’t seem to me to rise to those extraordinary circumstances needed to vote for a filibuster,” Murkowski said in a phone interview Thursday.
GOP senators had criticized the nomination of the University of California-Berkeley professor to a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying he is too liberal for the bench and lacks objectivity.
The final vote was 52-43, eight votes shy of the 60 needed to end the filibuster. It is the first time one of President Obama’s judicial nominees has been rejected.
The vote was largely along party lines, with only Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., joining Republicans to maintain the filibuster. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, an outspoken critic of judicial filibusters by Democrats during the Bush era, voted “present.”
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, joined Murkowski in voting to end the filibuster. Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said in an email that he “is disappointed partisan politics are getting in the way of a highly qualified nominee.”
Democrats filibustered 10 judicial nominees offered by President Bush, leading Republican leaders at the time to attempt to prohibit the practice. The agreement by Murkowski and other lawmakers from both parties had effectively halted judicial filibusters for the past six years.
Murkowski, who won a historic write-in campaign last fall with a broad spectrum of support, said that experience helped emphasize the importance of maintaining her philosophy against judicial filibusters. A constant theme during the campaign, she said, was that people across the political spectrum were tired of procedural gridlock in the Senate.
While most of Obama’s nominees will likely not share her political views, Murkowski said, the system allows the president to select nominees for the Senate’s consideration.
“This is how the political process works,” she said.
The cloture vote is one of several examples of Murkowski’s willingness to make votes that don’t fit with the GOP establishment since her historic victory. She also approved the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibiting openly gay service members, helped ratify a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and voted for the DREAM Act, an immigration bill that would give students in the country illegally a chance to become residents.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.