07.08.13

Leahy: Nominees Deserve Senate Attention

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted unanimously Monday to confirm Gregory Phillips to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  With a host of important judicial and executive nominees pending before the Senate and in the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged lawmakers to work together to fill vacancies throughout the government.

“Our Constitution provides the Senate an important role to play in providing advice to the President and in voting on whether to confirm nominees for our third branch of government,” Leahy said in a floor statement.  “Last month, we were reminded of the importance of these confirmation votes when the Supreme Court handed down several narrowly-decided opinions that are already impacting millions of Americans.” 

The Judiciary Committee approved the Phillips nomination in April, on a voice vote.  Six additional judicial nominees are pending on the executive calendar.  This week, the Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings on the nomination of James Comey to be the FBI Director, Patricia Millett to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and three district court nominees. 

Leahy’s extended remarks on the Phillips nomination can be viewed online

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Nomination of Gregory Phillips
July 8, 2013

Our Constitution provides the Senate an important role to play in providing advice to the President and in voting on whether to confirm nominees for our third branch of government.  Last month, we were reminded of the importance of these confirmation votes when the Supreme Court handed down several narrowly-decided opinions that are already impacting millions of Americans.  As a senior member of this chamber, I have voted on the confirmation of every one of the nine justices currently serving.  Since only a tiny percentage of cases brought in federal court ever end up at the Supreme Court, the Federal courts of appeal are often the courts of last resort for most disputes.  I am glad that today we are finally voting to confirm another appellate nominee. 

Gregory Phillips is currently the Attorney General of Wyoming, a position to which he was appointed by Wyoming’s Republican governor, and he is supported by his Republican home state Senators. 

With the confirmation of Attorney General Phillips, there will be 10 active judges on the Tenth Circuit.  According to the most recent data, this means that the number of pending appeals per active judge on that court will drop from 150 to 135.  I mention this because another appellate court, the D.C. Circuit, currently has 177 pending appeals per active judge.  Despite that higher caseload, some Senate Republicans argue that the D.C. Circuit’s caseload is too low, and that three of its judgeships should be eliminated.  I suspect that many, if not all, of these Senators will vote to confirm Attorney General Phillips, even though his confirmation means that the Tenth Circuit will now have the lowest caseload in the country, just as earlier this year they supported the confirmation of Jane Kelly to the Eighth Circuit, which gave that court the lowest caseload in the country.  I hope those Senators will reconsider their double-standard and not play politics with an independent branch of government.

Some of the same Senate Republicans who are opposing President Obama’s three nominees to the D.C. Circuit are also criticizing him for making too few nominations and somehow claiming that many vacancies without a nominee cannot possibly be the fault of Senate Republicans.  I recall that before President Obama made a single judicial nomination, all Senate Republicans sent him a letter threatening to filibuster his nominees if he did not consult Republican home state Senators.  They cannot have it both ways.

Judicial nominations should not be about partisan tit-for-tat.  Judicial vacancies impact millions of people, all across America, who depend on our Federal courts for justice.  Throughout my career, whether as a prosecutor or as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have fought for justice, and to ensure that people have access to justice and can have their day in court. 

That is why my recent statements have discussed not only the delays in the nominations process, but also the impact of sequestration cuts on our legal system.  I continue to hear from judges and other legal professionals about the serious problems sequestration either has caused, or will cause if we do not fix it.

Today, Attorney General Phillips will finally be confirmed by the Senate, and there are many more nominees the Senate should consider in the coming weeks.  Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from James Comey, who President Obama has nominated to serve as FBI Director.  Later this week the Committee will begin the process of considering the first of three current nominees to the D.C. Circuit.  The Judiciary Committee is also scheduled this week to vote on the nomination of B. Todd Jones to serve as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.  Nominees to lead the Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are also awaiting our consideration.  I hope the Senate will be able to come together and confirm these worthy nominees without the delay that has befallen so many nominees in the past four years.

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