One of the many problems of the secret "hold" that any senator can place on a nomination is that no one knows whether the senator in question objects to the nominee's views or the nominee as a person.
So what are we to make of news that a senator, so far unidentified, has put a hold on the nomination of Chai Feldblum, an openly gay law professor at Georgetown, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? Is it a problem with Feldblum's positions or the fact that she is a lesbian? Or perhaps another reason altogether?
Lisa Keen of Keen News Service reported
the hold on Feldblum and four other EEOC nominees on Monday, quoting a spokesperson for Sen. Harry Reid saying the majority leader is "working to get an agreement" with Republicans to consider the nomination of Feldblum and the others.
Since it doesn't take much these days to provoke Republicans to thwart President Obama's initiatives by any means necessary, it is no surprise that Feldblum's nomination is being held up.
When Obama nominated Feldblum in October last year, the eyes of social and religious conservatives lit up like pinball machines because of Feldblum's record. Not only was she a drafter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill -- still pending in Congress -- that would prohibit employment discrimination based on someone's real or perceived sexual orientation, but in 2006 she signed a mission statement sponsored by BeyondMarriage.org that critics say endorsed polygamy.
The offending reference in the statement is support for "committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner."
Feldblum has also advocated for government and social support of "nonsexual domestic partnerships," or NSDPs. She herself was in such an arrangement at one time with three other women; one of them was a single mother and the other three had committed to helping her raise the children, without a sexual involvement among them.
(Interestingly, as we noted in our story
on the new Washington gay marriage law and the conflict with Catholic Charities, some Catholic leaders have made similar arguments to allow any person residing in a domicile to share in the health benefits of another, whether married or not. In addition, Feldblum has represented Catholic Charities on many issues.)
In any event, Feldblum was quick to repent of her signature on the BeyondMarriage.org statement, saying she had not read the document closely.
"I do not support polygamy,'' Feldblum told Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, during her November confirmation hearing. ''I am sorry I signed that document and I have asked that my name be removed.''
Feldblum said she agreed with the ''general thrust'' of the statement's "support for the range of caregiving relationships,'' but said the full statement ''goes beyond what I would have said and it was mistake to sign it.''
No Republicans objected to Feldblum or questioned her, and as Keen reported
at the time, the hearing went off without the expected fireworks.
But apparently someone was keeping the powder dry for a later fight and has now put a hold on her nomination and that of the others. The motivation remains as much a mystery as the senator's identity.
Under Senate rules concerning holds, at some point Reid will have to decide whether to challenge or identify the "holding" senator -- unless of course the senator decides to "out" himself or herself.