The shellacking Democrats took on Tuesday should have the effect of sharpening Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s focus as the lame-duck session of Congress approaches. He must know that no legislation of consequence will be allowed to emerge from his chamber, given the looming transfer of partisan control. He also must know that, protestations of comity to the contrary, no judicial nominee to the left of Anthony Kennedy will get a vote on the Senate floor when Mitch McConnell has control. (Whenever a Kennedy clone would fare better is unclear.) Indeed, many potential nominees will never get hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee once Chuck Grassley takes power.
Unless Reid is ready to become the legislative equivalent of a teacher who spends the last week of school showing videos to his students, he has one thing he can do to make productive use of his remaining time as majority leader: process judicial nominations. The shortage of remaining time precludes consideration of new nominees, and probably of the 18 nominees who have not cleared the Judiciary Committee. But there are 16 nominees who have already been reported out of committee and need only a floor vote. Republicans will look to run out the clock, and even without the filibuster in place, there will be ample delaying techniques at their disposal. But even in the face of maximum delay, there will be time to confirm at least some nominees. And even incremental gains in the federal judiciary are crucial to a president who will have limited ability to do anything other than defend his accomplishments from erosion if not outright obliteration.