For the first time this year the Senate acted on President Bush’s judicial nominees, confirming five yesterday, including one appellate court nominee, in what can best be described as a miracle given the glacial pace Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are moving.

Not since James Polk, our nation’s 11th president was in the White House has it taken this long to confirm judicial nominees in an election year. “The majority has stalled judicial confirmation votes longer this year than in any presidential election year since 1848,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who led the Judiciary Committee during the final year of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Some say that the process always shuts down in a presidential election year, so I checked every one since I was first elected. By today, April 10, in each of those presidential election years, the Judiciary Committee had held hearings for multiple appeals court nominees. But this year, only one appeals court nominee has had a hearing, and there is not another one on the schedule.

In 16 of the 40 presidential election years since 1848, the Senate began confirming judges in January, including 1996 when Republicans were in charge under Clinton. The first judge was confirmed in February 17 times, most recently 2000 when Clinton was president. Only five times has it taken until March to act on a president’s judicial nominee.

As hard as it must have been, Reid managed to keep a straight face when he commended Leahy for the progress he was making on judicial nominees. In typical “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” style, Reid then criticized the minority. “My Republican friends have criticized the Chairman for the pace of judicial confirmations in this Congress. There is a Yiddish word for those Republican complaints: chutzpah.”

Fortunately, Republican senators aren’t letting him get away with the deception. The Committee for Justice reprinted the accounts of seven senators who took the floor to lambaste the glacial pace.