10.21.09

After Nearly Six Month Delay, Senate Confirms Vermont Judge To Chair Sentencing Commission

WASHINGTON – After a nearly six month delay, the U.S. Senate Wednesday night confirmed Vermont District Court Judge William Sessions to chair the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  The Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, unanimously reported the nomination on May 7.
 
“Judge Sessions is an extraordinary public servant,” said Leahy.  “He has twice previously been confirmed unanimously by the Senate to serve on the Sentencing Commission.  He has served with distinction for 10 years, and has served as a vice chair of the Sentencing Commission.  He is a distinguished United States Federal Judge who has served for 14 years and now serves as the Chief Judge for the District of Vermont.”
 
Sessions has twice been confirmed unanimously by the Senate to serve on the Sentencing Commission.  He was also confirmed in 1995 to serve as a federal judge on the Vermont District Court without opposition.
 
Leahy said, “Judge Sessions is eminently well qualified to serve as the Chair of the Sentencing Commission.  I must say that in my numerous conversations with Republican Senators and Republican Senate leaders during the last six months, no one raised any dispute or criticism or reason for this obstruction and delay.”

The Sessions nomination was one of six nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee that have been stalled on the Senate’s Executive Calendar since before August.  Objections to time agreements for debate and votes on judicial nominations have resulted in nearly a dozen appointments to fill vacancies on the federal bench languishing before the full Senate.  Four nominations to fill Assistant Attorney General positions at the Department of Justice are also pending on the Senate’s calendar, three of which were reported by the Judiciary Committee before the August recess.
President Obama nominated Judge Sessions to Chair the Commission on April 20.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Confirmation Of The Honorable William K. Sessions, III, Of Vermont,
To Be The Chair Of The United States Sentencing Commission
October 21, 2009

Today, the Senate is taking action long delayed by an anonymous Republican hold.  That hold has extended for almost six months without explanation.  I have spoken repeatedly to the Republican leader, the Assistant Republican leader, and the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. No one has given me any explanation for the hold.  When the Senate Majority Leader asked back in early June to proceed to the nomination that was reported without objection by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 7, the Republican leader objected, saying “we have not had an opportunity to get that cleared.”  They had had a month; another four months have now passed.  In violation of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, no Republican Senator has come forward in all this time to identify himself and specify a reason for the hold.

Judge Sessions is an extraordinary public servant.  Judge Sessions has twice previously been confirmed unanimously by the Senate to serve on the Sentencing Commission.  He has served with distinction for 10 years, and has served as a vice chair of the Sentencing Commission.  He is a distinguished United States Federal Judge who has served for 14 years and now serves as the Chief Judge for the District of Vermont.  He is a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, made up of the leaders of the Federal Judiciary.  He has also contributed to his local community as a public defender, an adjunct law professor, and even as a coach of the local Little League team.  A lawyer’s lawyer and a judge’s judge, he has earned the praise of both the prosecution bar and the defense bar.

Judge Sessions is eminently well qualified to serve as the Chair of the Sentencing Commission.  I must say that in my numerous conversations with Republican Senators and Republican Senate leaders during the last six months, no one raised any dispute or criticism or reason for this obstruction and delay.

This is most unfortunate because some of us have worked very hard to move beyond the era when delays in nominations to fill vacancies on the Sentencing Commission got so bad and extended so long that it drew the attention of the Chief Justice of the United States in his annual reports in 1997 and 1998.  I have worked with the Republican Chairmen and Ranking Members on the Judiciary Committee and consistently protected their rights and interests.  I have treated their recommended nominees with respect and shown them support.  I worked to break the impasse in the Republican-led Senate by working across the aisle and with the White House to develop a slate of nominees, Republican, Democratic and independent, that was confirmed as a group.  Thereafter, I have worked conscientiously with the lead Republican on the Judiciary Committee to fill vacancies appropriately as they arose.

Most recently, I worked even during the last weeks of the Bush administration to have the Judiciary Committee report and the Senate confirm two nominees recommended and supported by Senate Republicans.  William Carr, a recommendation from the Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was confirmed on November 20, 2008, weeks after the presidential election, and now serves as a vice chair.  We also proceeded to confirm to another term Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, who I supported when he was nominated to the Commission by his friend President Bush in January 2003, when he was nominated and confirmed as chair in 2004, and when he was renominated for another term and confirmed in November 2008.  Judge Hinojosa has served as acting chair because Republicans have held up the confirmation of Judge Sessions.  Apparently, Senate Republicans have chosen to respond to our having proceeded with those confirmations in November 2008 to the Sentencing Commission and to my years of cooperative efforts by resorting to delay and obstruction.  They have refused to allow the Senate to consider the nomination of Judge Sessions to serve as chair of the Sentencing Commission for the last several months.

I commend Judge Sessions for his patience, determination and sense of public service.  I thank the Majority Leader for proceeding to file the cloture petition last night that is finally resulting in Senate action on this important nomination.

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