Judiciary Committee Reports Nominee For Fourth Circuit

The Senate Judiciary Committee today unanimously voted to report the nomination of Steven Agee to fill a vacancy on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expedited the consideration of the Agee nomination after the White House finally reversed course after years spent making contentious nominations to the Fourth Circuit bench, stalling progress in the Senate to fill vacancies in the Circuit.

After years of delay, the President in March heeded the advice of Virginia Senators John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D), selecting Agee from a list of suggested nominees Warner and Webb recommended to the White House.  The President last week nominated Glen E. Conrad, another recommendation of Warner and Webb, to fill the second Virginia vacancy on the appellate bench in the Fourth Circuit.  The Committee held a hearing on the Agee nomination on May 1.  The Senate is now poised to confirm Agee before the Memorial Day recess, breaking through years of delay, during which time the President insisted on making controversial nominations like that of Jim Haynes, Claude Allen and, most recently, Duncan Getchell.  Getchell was nominated in September over the objections of Warner and Webb; his nomination was withdrawn in January.  Support from home state senators is a necessary requirement for the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of judicial nominations.

“I have commended President Bush for his nomination of Justice Steven Agee of Virginia to the Fourth Circuit,” said Leahy.  “Justice Agee’s nomination to a long vacant Fourth Circuit seat from Virginia is the result of a breakthrough with the White House that affords us the opportunity to be productive, even in an election year, after years of contentiousness.  I remain determined to prioritize progress and focus the Committee on those nominations on which we can make progress and, in particular, on those in which the White House has finally begun to work with the Senate.  The alternative is to risk becoming embroiled in contentious debates for months and thereby foreclose the opportunity to make progress where we can.”

Agee will join three district court nominees pending on the Senate's executive calendar.  The Committee has reported 49 judicial nominations in this Congress, and 33 nominations for high ranking positions at the Department of Justice.  Judicial vacancies are at the lowest levels in decades, and are 4.6 percent lower than when the President took office in 2001.  Circuit court vacancies have been reduced by 62.5 percent during the Bush administration, from 32 to 12.

Last week, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing for two nominees to fill vacancies on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The hearing for Judge Helene White and Raymond Kethledge reflected another recent agreement between the White House and home state Senators, breaking a longstanding impasse on the Sixth Circuit.  The Republican-led Senate failed to consider any of President Clinton's nominees to the Sixth Circuit in the final three years of his administration, leaving four vacancies on the Court of Appeals in that circuit at the start of the Bush administration.  If White and Kethledge are confirmed, vacancies on the appellate bench in that circuit will be reduced to zero.  Nine of the 13 Federal circuits have fewer vacancies today than at the start of the Bush administration, only a single circuit has more vacancies, and five are without any vacancies today.  Senate confirmation of the Agee nomination would reduce vacancies in the Fourth Circuit to four, fewer than were left at the end of the Clinton administration.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693

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