Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Judicial Nominations
February 24, 2014
Tonight I hope we will vote to end the filibusters of four judicial nominees to Federal district courts in Connecticut, Arkansas, and California. Each of these nominees – Jeffrey Meyer to fill a vacancy to the District of Connecticut; James Maxwell Moody, Jr., to fill a vacancy to the Eastern District of Arkansas; and James Donato and Beth Labson Freeman to fill judicial emergency vacancies to the Northern District of California – were voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the unanimous support of Republicans and Democrats. Yet, they have languished on the Senate floor for months. Because of Republican obstruction we are again wasting precious time to overcome procedural hurdles just to have an up-or-down vote on these worthy nominees.
I began the year expressing my hope that we would set aside our differences and do what is best for this country by confirming qualified nominees to fill critical vacancies facing our Federal Judiciary. Instead, it appears that Senate Republicans have decided to double down and to further exhaust every means of delay at their disposal, even when a nominee is supported by those on both sides of the aisle and supported by both home state senators.
A few weeks ago, prior to recessing, Senator Pryor asked for unanimous consent to vote on the nominations of Timothy Brooks and James Moody to fill judicial vacancies in the Western and Eastern Districts of Arkansas. Both of these nominees had the bipartisan support of their home state senators, as well as the bipartisan support of every single member of the Judiciary Committee. Both these nominees could and should have been confirmed last year, as they were originally voted out of Committee by voice vote last October and November, respectively. Nevertheless, Senate Republicans refused to consent to a vote on their nominations as the year ended. This meant that these nominees had to be re-nominated and re-processed through Committee. Having jumped through all of these additional hurdles, these nominees still cannot get a vote on their nominations as Senate Republicans continue to object. Senate Republicans claim that the Majority Leader himself can bring up these nominations for a vote whenever he chooses to do so. But what the Republicans are hiding from the American people is that they are deliberately obstructing and placing roadblocks so that each and every confirmation takes as long as humanly possible.
This illustrates why Congress is so unpopular with the American people. Here, you have lawmakers deliberately making it as difficult as possible to do something to address the needs of our Federal Judiciary. Republicans may see this as retribution for the rules change that occurred last year, but their steadfast obstruction only hurts the American people.
More than a month into the new year, we have confirmed just one judicial nominee. This is the case even though there are currently 96 judicial vacancies, 39 of which have been deemed emergency vacancies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In stark contrast, there were only 56 judicial vacancies at the same point in President Bush’s tenure. The comparison is even more troubling when you consider the 32 judicial nominees currently pending on the Executive Calendar. We could lower the number of judicial vacancies today to 64 if Senate Republicans would consent to voting on the pending nominees. We have not had fewer than 70 vacancies since May 2009, more than 4 years ago. And for most of President Obama’s tenure in office, judicial vacancies have continued to hover around 80 and 90 because of Senate Republican obstruction. Nevertheless, Senate Republicans continue to object to votes on these nominations.
There are no excuses for the delays except sheer partisanship. All but 3 of the 32 judicial nominees currently pending on the Executive Calendar had hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Despite the self-imposed delays by Republicans, who demanded these nominees be sent back to the President to be re-nominated and re-processed through Committee, the Judiciary Committee has worked hard to again report them out of Committee. The only delay that is holding them up is the Republicans who have continuously objected to a vote on their nominations.
Almost all of the judicial nominees pending before the full Senate are uncontroversial. In fact, of the 32 judicial nominees currently pending, 30 were voted out of Committee with bipartisan support. It is clear that Senate Republicans have decided to use the rules change as another excuse to further accomplish their partial government shut down. Before the rules change, Senate Republicans used anonymous holds to delay confirming qualified judicial nominees, and dragged their feet every step of the way to slow down the confirmation process. Senate Democrats changed the rules precisely because of these delay tactics, which were causing great harm to the judicial system and negatively impacting those Americans who were seeking justice in our Federal courts. The American people who have sought to obtain justice in our Federal courts deserve speedy and prompt justice. The petty partisan tactics on display tonight are not even worthy of the playgrounds of our children and grandchildren, let alone the United States Senate.
It used to be that nominees for U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal were confirmed by unanimous consent without taking up any floor time. However, Republicans have now decided that they will delay the confirmation of these nominees as well. Once again, the only individuals who are hurt by these tit-for-tat political games are the American people. When a state lacks the necessary law enforcement officers they need to keep its streets safe from criminals, it is the American people that are hurt. I hope that Senate Republicans will re-think this misguided strategy of obstruction and do-nothingness.
Shortly, I hope we can overcome the filibusters on the following qualified judicial nominees:
Jeffrey Meyer is nominated to fill a judicial vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. He has served since 2006 as a Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University School of Law, and since 2010 as a Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He served as Senior Counsel to the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Connecticut from 1995 to 2004, and as Appeals Chief from 2000 to 2004. Prior to his work as a Federal prosecutor, he worked as an associate at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel PLLC from 1993 to 1995, and at Shearman & Sterling LLP in 1993, and from 1990 to 1991. He worked as a staff attorney for Vermont Legal Aid from 1992 to 1993. Following law school, he served as a law clerk to three distinguished Federal judges, including Justice Harry Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Donald Ross of Eighth Circuit, and Judge James Oakes of the Second Circuit. The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Mr. Meyer well qualified to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, its highest rating. He has the strong support of both his home state senators, Senator Blumenthal and Senator Murphy. He was approved by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote last September, and once again, last month.
Judge James Moody is nominated to fill a judicial vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Since 2003, he has served as a Circuit Court Judge in Arkansas’s Sixth Judicial Circuit. He has presided over 1,000 cases in the Arkansas State Court Systems. He previously worked in private practice at Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP as a Partner from 1994 to 2003, and as an Associate from 1989 to 1994. The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Judge Moody well qualified to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, its highest rating. He has the strong bipartisan support of both his home state senators, Senator Pryor and Senator Boozman. He was approved by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote last November, and once again, last month.
James Donato is nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Since 2009, he has worked in private practice as a Partner at Sherman & Sterling LLP. He has served pro bono as a court appointed mediator in the Northern District of California since 2002, handling civil rights actions against state and local law enforcement departments. He previously worked as a Partner at Cooley LLP from 1998 to 2009, and as a Special Counsel from 1996 to 1998. He served as a Deputy City Attorney in the Trial Division of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office from 1993 to 1996, and as an Associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP from 1990 to 1993. Following his graduation from Stanford Law School, he clerked for Judge Proctor Hug, Jr., of the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Mr. Donato earned his B.A. in 1983 from the University of California, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his M.A. in History in 1984 at Harvard University, and his J.D. in 1988 from Stanford Law School, where he served as Senior Editor of the Stanford Law Review. He has the strong support of both his home state senators, Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein. He was approved by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote last October, and once again, last month.
Judge Beth Freeman is nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Since 2001, she has served as a California State Judge in San Mateo County Superior Court. She served as the Presiding Judge from 2011 to 2012. During her 12 years on the bench, she has presided over approximately 150 jury trials and over a thousand bench trials. She previously served as a Deputy County Counsel to the San Mateo County Counsel’s Office from 1983 to 2001. She worked in private practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver, and Jacobson in Washington, D.C. as an Associate Attorney from 1979 to 1981.
Judge Freeman earned her B.A. with distinction from the University of California, Berkeley in 1976. She earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979. She has the strong support of both her home state senators, Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein. She was approved by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote last October, and once again, last month.
I thank the Majority Leader for filing cloture petitions to end the filibusters of these much needed trial court judges. I hope my fellow senators will join me today to end these filibusters so that these nominees can get working on behalf of the American people.
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