The Des Moines and Waterloo offices of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley are now in possession of roughly 600 toy, candy, and corn cob pipes.
Last month Grassley told Sen. Chuck Schumer to “put that in your pipe and smoke it,” when the New York Democrat complained that the pace of judicial confirmations has slowed since Republicans took over the Senate in January. Critics, such as the activist collaboration Why Courts Matter, says Grassley used "immature language on the flood of the U.S. Senate" in response to Schumer and called him dishonest about "his failed leadership."
Why Courts Matter is a project under the auspices of left-leaning Center for American Progress. Activist Matt Sinovic says more than 1,200 people signed a petition, which says Grassley chairs the “most obstructionist” Judicial Committee since 1953.
"This just makes it clear that Iowans are frustrated. And they know that the justice delayed is justice denied," says Sinovic. "And it's time for the senator to show real leadership on the judiciary committee and start getting through some of these nominees."
To be clear, Sinovic reports 908 of the petition's 1,257 signatures were Iowans.
Grassley says that his comments are being taken out of context, and that people are overreacting about the rate of judicial nominations.
"We have approved 312 judges, and only disapproved two. And during the (George W.) Bush Administration at this point, when the Democrats controlled the Senate, only 284 had been approved," says Grassley. "So I think statistics speak for themselves and nothing more needs to be said."
The number of judicial confirmations is higher under President Obama when compared to the Bush Administration. But there are also a greater number of vacancies.
"If the metric is which Senate confirms more judges, I guess Grassley has a point. But I think the metric is filling vacancies," says Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Getting the vacancies filled is an important thing…especially in a state like Iowa which has relatively few judgeships."
Wheeler says the slow down of judicial nominations is, "One more example of how this whole confirmation process has just broken down."
Nationwide there are 54 judicial vacancies in federal district courts. 26 of those seats have been empty so long they are considered “judicial emergencies.”*
*An earlier version of this story stated there are 31 judicial emergencies in federal district courts. There are 26 emergency vacancies in district courts and another 5 in circuit courts of appeals.