03.14.12

Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Agreement On Judicial Nominations

“I am pleased the Majority Leader and the Republican Leader have reached a compromise agreement to ensure votes on more than a dozen judicial nominations, some of which have been pending for over five months, and almost all of which were reported by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support last year. 

“This agreement will help clear the backlog of nominations pending before the Senate, and paves the way for continued progress moving forward.  If the Senate will work together for the American people, we can confirm these judicial nominations, begin to address the chronic vacancies crisis, and ensure that justice for the American people is neither delayed nor denied.”

# # # # #

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On the Republican Filibusters of Judicial Nominations

March 14, 2012

Yesterday I came to the floor to express my hope that Republicans would join together with Democrats to end the damaging filibusters of judicial nominations.   With a judicial vacancies crisis that has lasted years, and nearly one in 10 judgeships across the Nation vacant, this is something the Senate needs to do.  I hoped that we could work together to ensure that the Federal courts have the judges they need to provide justice for all Americans without needless delay.  

Today there are 22 circuit and district court nominations ready for Senate consideration and a final confirmation vote.  They were all reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee after thorough review.  All but a handful are by any measure consensus nominations.  There was never any good reason for the Senate not to proceed to votes on these nominations.  It should not have taken cloture petitions to get agreement to schedule votes on these qualified, consensus judicial nominations.  A dozen of the nominations on which agreement has now been reached have been stalled for months and were reported last year. 

These are qualified judicial nominees.  They are nominees whose judicial philosophy is well within the mainstream. These are all nominees supported by their home state Senators, both Republican and Democratic.  The consequence of these months of delays is borne by the nearly 160 million Americans who live in districts and circuits with vacancies that could be filled as soon as Senate Republicans agree to up or down votes on the 22 judicial nominations currently before the Senate awaiting a confirmation vote. 

In light of the agreement reached between the leaders, the Senate will finally be allowed to consider the nomination of Judge Gina Groh of West Virginia.  Her nomination has been stalled for more than five months. We will also finally be able to consider other long stalled nominations like that of Michael Fitzgerald to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the Central District of California, which has been ready for a vote for well over four months.  The delays in confirmations mean justice delayed for millions of Americans. 

 

I went back and checked my recollection of how we considered consensus Federal trial court nominees in President Bush’s first term.  Nearly 60 were confirmed within a week of being reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  By contrast there have only been two judicial nominees voted on so promptly since President Obama took office.  I said at the time we were able to vote on the Alabama nominee supported by Senator Sessions, who was at that time the Committee’s Ranking Republican member, and on Judge Reiss of Vermont, that I hoped they would become the model for regular order.  Instead, they stand out as isolated exceptions to the months of delay Senate Republicans have insisted on before considering consensus Federal trial court nominees of this President.

I am glad that there is finally agreement to proceed, as well, with circuit nominees.  Two delayed from last year are outstanding women:  Stephanie Dawn Thacker of West Virginia, nominated to the Fourth Circuit, and Judge Jacqueline Nguyen of California, nominated to fill one of the many judicial emergency vacancies on the Ninth Circuit.  Ms. Thacker, an experienced litigator and prosecutor, has the strong support of her home state Senators, Senators Rockefeller and Manchin.  Judge Nguyen, whose family fled to the United States in 1975 after the fall of South Vietnam, was confirmed unanimously to the district court in 2009 and would become the first Asian Pacific American woman to serve on a U.S. Court of Appeals.  Both were reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last year and both should be confirmed by the Senate without additional damaging delays.

I am pleased that the Majority Leader and the Republican leader have now come to an understanding and a path forward on these important judicial nominations.  Their agreement not only helps work through the backlog of nominations stalled before the Senate, it paves the way for votes on 14 of the 22 current judicial nominations and provides a pattern for continuing to make progress beyond those 14 and beyond the current 22.  There are another eight judicial nominees working who have had hearings and are working their way through the Committee process.  In addition, there are another 11 nominations on which the Committee should be holding additional hearings during the next several weeks.  By working steadily and by continuing the resumption of the regular consideration of judicial nominations I hope the understanding between the leaders signals, we can have a positive impact and reduce judicial vacancies significantly before the end of the year.  In 2004 and 2008, both presidential election years, by working together we were able to reduce judicial vacancies to the lowest levels in decades.

Our courts need qualified Federal judges, not vacancies, if they are to reduce the excessive wait times that burden litigants seeking their day in court.  It is unacceptable for hardworking Americans who turn to their courts for justice to suffer unnecessary delays.  When an injured plaintiff sues to help cover the cost of his or her medical expenses, that plaintiff should not have to wait three years before a judge hears the case.  When two small business owners disagree over a contract, they should not have to wait years for a court to resolve their dispute.

Never before in the Senate’s history have I seen the confirmation of qualified, consensus district court nominees supported by their home state Senators and reported by the Judiciary Committee blocked for months.  We remain 40 confirmations and nine months behind the pace we set during 2001 through 2004, during President Bush’s first term.  The judicial vacancy rate remains nearly double what it was at this time during his first term. 

We 100 Senators stand in the shoes of over 300 million Americans.  It is good to see the Senate agreeing to end the partisan stalling and schedule votes on these long-delayed and much-needed judges.

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693