Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s extended absence from the Senate has caused significant delays in judicial nominations, threatening President Biden’s goal of quickly filling critical judicial vacancies.
The California Democrat has missed 60 of the 82 votes the Senate has taken this year, and her absence is holding up the confirmation of Biden’s judicial picks at a really critical time.
With the Senate evenly split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, Feinstein’s presence is needed to maintain a majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the nominees are reviewed and voted on.
Feinstein has been absent from the Senate for several weeks due to her hospitalization for shingles, and it is unclear when she will return to work. The California Democrat has been a senator since 1992 and is the oldest sitting senator at 89 years old.
There have been concerns about her ability to continue serving as a U.S. senator due to her age. In December 2020, Politico reported that there was “widespread” fear among Democrats that Feinstein was starting to slip, citing aides and other Senate staffers who said that the then-87-year-old frequently “gets confused by reporters’ questions, or will offer different answers to the same question depending on where or when she’s asked,” and appears “frail.”
Feinstein’s absence has hampered Democrats’ ability to confirm judges on the Judiciary Committee, leading some to call for her resignation.
Some California Democrats and activists have criticized Feinstein for staying in office despite her age and are calling for her to retire. They argue that her absence is hurting not only the interests of California but is also a threat to democracy.
Without Feinstein, Senate Democrats are one vote short of the majority on the Judiciary Committee, and a tie vote means a losing vote in the committee.
Her absence has delayed hearings on several judicial nominees, further exacerbating the existing backlog of vacancies. Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to pack the courts with ideologically aligned judges, and the current slowdown only lends credence to that claim.