09.10.12

Leahy Calls On Senate Republicans To Drop Blockade Of Consensus Judicial Picks

WASHINGTON (Monday, September 10, 2012) –The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the nomination of Stephanie Rose, a federal district court nominee from Iowa who has been pending on the floor since April. While Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) welcomed the chamber’s consideration of Rose, he noted that the Senate remains far behind the pace set in considering well qualified judicial nominees in past administrations.

A dozen of the 18 pending district court nominees on the Senate calendar would fill a judicial emergency vacancy; one of the four circuit court nominees pending on the Senate floor has been pending for six months; and nearly all of the 22 pending nominations enjoy bipartisan support.  A total of 165 district court nominees were approved in President George W. Bush’s first term, but obstruction and delay has allowed only 127 of President Obama’s nominations to be confirmed. 

“The across-the-board obstruction and foot dragging from Senate Republicans since Day One of President Obama’s tenure means that we are likely to complete his first term with more judicial vacancies than when he took office,” Leahy said on the Senate floor.  “The partisan obstruction from Senate Republicans has been particularly damaging with respect to Federal trial courts.  In a sharp departure from the past, Senate Republicans have stalled Senate approval of district court nominees, including those Republican home state Senators support.”

With little time in the legislative year left, Leahy called on Senate Republicans to join Democrats and clear the backlog of pending judicial nominations that, if confirmed, would significantly cut down on the number of vacancies throughout the country. 

“District courts in particular should not be politicized,” Leahy said. “Given our overburdened Federal courts and the need to provide all Americans with prompt justice, the Senate should be working in a bipartisan fashion to confirm these nominees without further delay.”

A copy of Senator Leahy’s extended remarks can be found online.

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Nominations Pending On The Senate Calendar

Patty Shwartz (3rd Circuit)

Reported on March 8, 2012

Richard Gary Taranto (Federal Circuit)

Reported on March 29, 2012

William J. Kayatta, Jr. (1st Circuit)

Reported on April 19, 2012

Gonzalo P. Curiel* (SD CA)

Reported on April 26, 2012

Robert J. Shelby* (D UT)

Reported on April 26, 2012

Michael P. Shea (D CT)

Reported on April 26, 2012

Robert E. Bacharach (10th Circuit)

Reported on June 7, 2012

Paul William Grimm (D MD) 

Reported on June 7, 2012

Mark E. Walker (ND FL)

Reported on June 7, 2012

John E. Dowdell (ND OK)

Reported on June 7, 2012

Brian J. Davis* (MD FL)

Reported on June 21, 2012

Terrence G. Berg* (ED MI)

Reported on July 12, 2012

Jesus G. Bernal* (CD CA)

Reported on July 12, 2012

Lorna G. Schofield (SD NY)

Reported on July 12, 2012

Frank Paul Geraci, Jr.* (WD NY) 

Reported on July 19, 2012

Fernando M. Olguin* (CD CA)

Reported on July 19, 2012

Matthew W. Brann* (MD PA) 

Reported on July 19, 2012

Malachy Edward Mannion* (MD PA) 

Reported on July 19, 2012

Thomas M. Durkin* (ND IL) 

Reported on August 2, 2012

William H. Orrick, III* (ND CA)

Reported on August 2, 2012

Jon S. Tigar* (ND CA)

Reported on August 2, 2012

*Indicates this nominee will fill a Judicial Emergency

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

On the Nomination of Stephanie Rose to the U.S. District Court for the

Southern District Of Iowa

September 10, 2012

When the Senate recessed more than a month ago, 22 judicial nominees to fill vacancies in courtrooms around the country were left pending, awaiting a Senate vote.  Today, Senate Republicans have agreed to vote on just one of those nominees.  I want to commend Senator Harkin for working with Senator Grassley and the Majority Leader to get this vote on the nomination of Stephanie Rose of Iowa.  I urge votes on the other nominees, as well, without further delay.

There are currently 78 Federal judicial vacancies.  Judicial vacancies during the last few years have been at historically high levels and have remained near or above 80 for nearly the entire first term of the President.  One key reason for these numerous vacancies and for the extensive backlog of nominees is that Senate Republicans allowed votes on just one district court nominee per week for the last seven weeks before the August recess.  This unnecessarily slow pace of consideration of judicial nominees has disserved the American people and should not continue.

The across-the-board obstruction and foot dragging from Senate Republicans since Day One of President Obama’s tenure means that we are likely to complete his first term with more judicial vacancies than when he took office.  The partisan obstruction from Senate Republicans has been particularly damaging with respect to Federal trial courts.  In a sharp departure from the past, Senate Republicans have stalled Senate approval of district court nominees, including those Republican home state Senators support.

At this point in President Bush’s first term, Senate Democrats had worked with Republicans to confirm 165 of his district court nominees.  Despite the fact that President Obama has worked with home state Senators of both parties to select moderate, superbly-qualified judicial nominees, Senate Republicans have engaged in unprecedented obstruction of Federal trial court nominees for the last four years.

As Carl Tobias noted last month in a letter to the New York Times:

“Republican senators have created and applied practices that substantially depart from procedures employed in prior administrations, even as recently as that of President George W. Bush.  The most important change is the refusal by the G.O.P. leadership to enter voting agreements on well-qualified, uncontroversial district court nominees, so they languish for months on the Senate floor.” 

Professor Tobias is correct, and the result is that at this point in his first term President Obama’s district court nominees have had to wait nearly three times longer for a Senate vote and the Senate has confirmed more than three dozen fewer.

Senate Republicans have made a habit of delaying and opposing President Obama’s district court nominees, voting against more than a quarter of them – 36 out of 127 to be precise.  And they stall confirmations for months of noncontroversial nominees including those supported by home state Republican Senators who are eventually confirmed overwhelmingly.

This extreme partisanship has not just resulted in persistently high vacancies – Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently observed that it is also “bad for the legal system” as a whole.  He indicated:  “It makes the judiciary look politicized when it is not, and it has to stop.”  District courts in particular should not be politicized.  The 18 district court nominees currently pending before the Senate were not chosen based on some ideological litmus test.  They were selected for their legal excellence, whether as practicing attorneys or sitting judges.

I urge Senate Republicans not to continue their practice of stalling qualified nominees from confirmation.  I urge them to agree to schedule debate and votes on the 18 district court nominees who could be confirmed with strong bipartisan support and without further delay.  A dozen of those nominees would fill judicial emergency vacancies.  

Let us act on these nominations.  There is no doubt that recent precedent shows we can do this even in September of a Presidential election year.  In 2008, the final year of President Bush’s presidency, Senate Democrats were willing to confirm 10 of his district court nominees in a single day, all by unanimous consent.  It took only a few seconds.  Earlier in that Republican presidency, and again with a Democratic Majority, the Senate confirmed 18 judicial nominees in just one day and vacancies went down to 60 throughout the country, on the way down to 28.  If we confirm all of the district nominees ready for final Senate action today, we can similarly reduce vacancies back down to 60.

I hope that Senate Republicans will not extend their wrongheaded application of the “Thurmond Rule” and further stall confirmation of consensus, well-qualified district court nominees.  Given our overburdened Federal courts and the need to provide all Americans with prompt justice, the Senate should be working in a bipartisan fashion to confirm these nominees without further delay.

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