Sen. Robert Menendez had no legitimate grounds to block the nomination of a highly qualified woman for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals, as he has tacitly admitted himself.
But his political games have proved costly. Senate Republicans now say they won't consider any more judicial nominees before the election, leaving U.S. Magistrate Patty Shwartz stranded.
She may never get the job now. And in the meantime, a seat normally reserved for New Jersey on this powerful court, one step below the Supreme Court, will remain vacant.
Shwartz is universally respected for her intellect and temperament. She was given the highest rating by the American Bar Association and a chorus of support from New Jersey attorneys.
Menendez (D-N.J.), though, said her answers to questions were not satisfactory. So he used one of the clubby powers that U.S. senators grant to one another and single-handedly put the nomination on hold.
Critics charged that he had a darker motive, that he blocked Shwartz because she is the romantic partner of James Nobile, a senior prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office who played a key role in the 2006 investigation of Menendez. Others said he was miffed at the White House for favoring nominees suggested by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), including Shwartz.
Whatever the real reason, it seems clear that some kind of political nonsense was at work. Under pressure, Menendez in January finally met with Shwartz a second time, after which he approved the nomination. That change came too late, though, and now Shwartz is mired in the sticky dysfunction of a broken Senate. Nice going, Senator.