Comment On Judicial Nominations

We are here to talk about the expanding backlog of pending nominations.  The pattern of obstruction and delay in the Senate’s consideration of these nominations – particularly judicial nominations – is unprecedented.  Twenty-two nominations – 22 highly qualified nominees – are languishing on the Senate floor because we are unable to reach time agreements with Senate Republicans.  Many of these nominees, which were reported by the Judiciary Committee without dissent, have been pending for months. 

The overall pattern set by those on the other side of the aisle is one of reflexive partisanship, not principled argument.  Increasingly, Senate Republicans are avoiding answering “aye” or “nay” on these nominations by trying to get away with just answering “maybe.”  This massively mounting job avoidance is not what taxpayers expect from those elected to the Senate.  Even when Republicans don’t reflexively say no, they have insisted on slow-walking consensus nominees. 

Earlier this year, after months of delay, the Majority Leader was forced to file cloture on a highly qualified circuit court nominee, Judge Barbara Keenan.   She was confirmed 99 to zero.  No Senator came to the floor in opposition of her nomination.  No Senator explained the delay in her confirmation.  In fact, the seven circuit court judges confirmed this year have waited an average of 124 days to be confirmed after being reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee.  The seven circuit court judges confirmed by this date in President Bush’s administration waited an average of 6 days to be confirmed – that’s less than a week of waiting for confirmation for President Bush’s circuit court nominations, and more than four months of needless waiting for President Obama’s nominations.

By this date in President Bush’s first term, the Senate had confirmed 42 federal district and circuit court judges; there were just three judicial nominations on the Calendar, and all three were confirmed within a week.  As of today, we have confirmed just 18 district and circuit court nominations; 22 are pending on the Executive Calendar. 

Nineteen have been pending for more than a month.  And 16 were reported by the Judiciary Committee without dissent.

The public pays the price while Republicans slow-walk these nominees.  Vacancies on the federal judicial bench are skyrocketing and backlogs are growing, while the minority party in the Senate fiddles.  Judicial vacancies now total more than 100.  Forty vacancies have been identified as “judicial emergencies.”  These delays only do a disservice to the American people seeking justice in our overburdened federal courts.  We have to do far more to address the growing crisis of unfilled judicial vacancies.  We owe it to the American people to do better.

Of course, the confirmation delays extend also to Executive Branch nominations.  In total, more than 80 nominations are pending on the executive calendar, dating back to May of last year.  Many of these nominations are those which, in previous Congresses, have been confirmed by voice vote, and certainly without the substantial delays we have seen with President Obama’s nominees. 

These nominees and their families have to put their lives on hold while they wait for the Senate to do its job.  The President should be given deference in selecting his leadership team; instead he has met with obstruction.

The Senate and the Judiciary Committee are preparing to consider President Obama’s nominee to succeed Justice Stevens.  I hope the pattern of delay and obstruction that has been so evident in this Congress will not affect the Committee’s fair and prompt consideration of the President’s nominee.  While we await an announcement of the President’s nomination, I call on Senate Republicans to work with us to clear the backlogs of pending nominations.  It is past time to put politics aside and get on with the work of the American people. 

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693