Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing On Pending Nominations

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday held its first hearing since April to consider lower court nominations, and its first hearing to consider executive nominations since June.
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) presided over a hearing to consider the nomination of David Kappos to be the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the nominations of Beverly Martin to be a Circuit Court Judge for the Eleventh Circuit, and Jeffrey Viken to be a District Court judge for South Dakota.
On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee reported five nominations to the Senate floor for consideration, including the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  Also reported to the Senate floor were the nominations of A. Thomas McLellan to be Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Alejandro Mayorkas to be Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Christopher Schroeder to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, and Cranston Mitchell to be a Commissioner of the U.S. Parole Commission.
Seventeen nominations reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee are pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, including three circuit court nominations and five U.S. Attorney nominations.  Information about pending judicial and executive nominations is available on the Senate Judiciary Committee website.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing On Judicial and Executive Nominations
July 29, 2009

Yesterday, the Committee reported the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be a Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  This morning, we hold our first confirmation hearing for lower court nominees since the Supreme Court vacancy arose in May.
The vacancies throughout the Federal courts have already risen to over 80.  In addition, 27 upcoming vacancies have been announced.  They will push Federal judicial vacancies over 100.  We worked very hard to fill vacancies during the last presidency.  When I chaired this Committee and we had a President of the other party in the White House, we were able to reduce overall vacancies by two-thirds, from over 100 down to 34, and to reduce circuit court vacancies to single digits.  Despite having received Federal judicial nominees since March from President Obama and despite having held hearings and reported those nominees in June, not a single Federal judge has been confirmed by the Senate all year.  The Senate must do better.
Both the judicial nominations we consider today come to us with bipartisan support.  President Obama’s nomination of Judge Beverly Martin, to be elevated from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to the 11th Circuit, has the support of Georgia’s Senators, Senator Chambliss and Senator Isakson.  Jeffrey Viken, nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, has the support of South Dakota’s senior Senator, Senator Johnson, and Senator Thune.
Judge Martin is the fourth of President Obama’s circuit court nominees to come before the Committee and the fourth with extensive experience as a well-respected Federal district court judge.   When her nomination came before the Senate in 2000, it had the support of Senator Max Cleland, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Paul Coverdell, a Republican.  Since her confirmation, she has managed a docket of 3,100 cases.  Her nomination to the circuit court is rated unanimously “well qualified” by the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.  Before becoming a Federal judge she had served as the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in that office and as an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia.
Jeffery Viken’s wide-ranging experience makes him particularly qualified to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.  He is currently the Federal Defender for the combined districts of North Dakota and South Dakota.  He spent more than two decades at a South Dakota law firm and, before that, he served the District of South Dakota as its Acting U.S. Attorney and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  
I am also pleased to include in today’s hearing the nomination of David Kappos to be Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.  He is a nominee who is well respected on both sides of the aisle and in all parts of the intellectual property community.
Mr. Kappos is no stranger to the members of this Committee.  He testified earlier this year with regard to patent reform legislation.  Coalitions on all sides of that debate have applauded the nomination of Mr. Kappos.
The PTO needs strong and accountable leadership.  It has a significant backlog of applications and faces serious challenges as a result of the difficult economic environment.  All of us who have been deeply involved in the patent reform effort share an interest in improving patent quality and reducing the backlog.
I look forward to working with Mr. Kappos, once he is confirmed, on patent reform legislation that will improve and modernize the statutory framework for our patent system.  Ultimately, patent quality begins at the PTO and requires effective leadership.  I am pleased that the President has nominated someone for this position with strong qualifications and ability.
I hope the hearing today can mark a new start in cooperating to fill vacancies.  Republican objections have prevented the Senate from confirming nominees reported by the Judiciary Committee for over two months, since May 12.  There are currently 17 nominees reported by the Judiciary Committee pending on the Executive Calendar.  A dozen have been stalled on the Senate Executive Calendar since before the July 4th recess.  The pending nominations include five U. S. Attorneys, four Assistant Attorneys General and the Chairman of the United States Sentencing Commission.  I would urge the Senate Republican leadership to work with us to clear those nominations for confirmation before the extended August recess.
I am pleased to welcome our nominees and their families to the Committee today and I look forward to our considering these nominations.

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