Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Chief Justice Roberts’ Year-End Report On The Federal Judiciary

“There is no better time than the occasion of the Chief Justice’s year-end report to thank the many dedicated public servants who work in our nation’s federal courts.  Millions of Americans rely on our federal judiciary to resolve their disputes and uphold their constitutional rights.  Because of the work of these dedicated men and women, fair and impartial justice is administered each and every day.

“Despite the many challenges facing the federal judiciary, the focus of the Chief’s report this year is the issue of the Supreme Court Justices’ impartiality.  The Supreme Court is the last stop on the path to justice, and its decisions impact millions of Americans.  I noted with interest the Chief Justice’s observation that no Justice’s seat can be filled by another Justice.  That is the reason Justices have previously given for failing to recuse themselves in cases where their impartiality was questioned.  Former Justice Stevens suggested that retired Supreme Court Justices be permitted to sit by designation on the Court to which they were confirmed, if a Justice is recused from a case.  I introduced legislation to provide the Supreme Court with that flexibility, so that the Justices would feel free to recuse themselves.  Given the recent public attention to the question of recusals on the Supreme Court, the New Year may provide another opportunity for us to consider this proposal.  I understand and respect that Justices should decide whether to recuse from a given case, but if the goal is to increase public confidence in the impartiality of the Court, then each Justice should follow the same standards as all other judges on the federal bench. 

“I hope in the coming year, the Supreme Court will provide greater access to its oral arguments so that more Americans can understand and appreciate the work of our highest court.  I have no doubt that providing real-time access to these public proceedings would increase the public’s confidence in the federal judiciary. 

“Finally, I remain concerned about the impact sustained judicial vacancies are having on our courts around the country. This is arguably the greatest threat to the trial and appellate courts of the federal judiciary.  For the last three years, dozens of judicial nominations have been delayed in the Senate.  In fact, nearly 20 judicial nominations pending and stalled before the Senate should be confirmed when the body resumes session in January.  This would lower the current number of vacancies by nearly 25 percent.  The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to provide its advice and consent in the confirmation of federal judges. Only then can the federal judiciary fulfill its own constitutional role.”

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