06.08.16

Leahy: The Federal Judiciary Cannot Be Treated Like An Election Year Pawn

Leahy: The Federal Judiciary Cannot Be Treated Like An Election Year Pawn

“If the Republican leaders of this body want to distinguish themselves from the rhetoric of the campaign trail, they need to change course here in the Senate. Actions speak louder than words.”

WASHINGTON (WEDNESDAY, June 8, 2016) – The attack on a federal judge by the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee is just the latest example of GOP obstruction to the independent federal judiciary, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Wednesday.

Obstruction by Senate Republicans throughout President Obama’s administration has led to a judicial vacancy crisis. This obstruction has culminated in the Republicans’ wholesale blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but dozens of nominees throughout the course of the Obama administration have been blocked and their records mischaracterized, Leahy said.

“I am deeply troubled by this attack on a sitting Federal judge. But make no mistake – it is not the first, nor will it be the last Republican attack on the independence of our Federal judiciary,” Leahy said in a floor statement. “This may be the most extreme example but it is just the latest in a series of Republican actions that seek to undermine and compromise this coequal branch of government.”

Senate Republicans have allowed just 20 judicial nominees to be confirmed since taking over the majority last year. In sharp contrast, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 68 judicial nominees in the last two years of President Bush’s tenure.

A recent analysis by the Washington Post detailed the judicial vacancy crisis impacting courts throughout the country. Vacancies, including emergency vacancies, have nearly doubled since Republicans took over the majority. The vacancy rate is nearly twice as high today under the Republican Senate as it was at the same point in President George W. Bush’s final year in office, when a Democratic Senate majority worked to fill judicial vacancies and confirmed 28 nominees in 2008, including 10 in September of that election year.

This obstruction extends all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Republicans’ refusal to fill a critical vacancy has led to a diminished Court that cannot serve as the final arbiter of law. A recent extensive analysis by two law professors found that there is “no historical precedent” for the Republicans’ refusal to consider Chief Judge Garland’s nomination. And in an editorial this week, the Washington Post wrote that the Senate “has an obligation to confirm if nominees are, as in this case, obviously qualified and within the mainstream of judicial thinking. No other arrangement can keep the system working.”

Leahy said: “For the good of the country, Republicans need to stop diminishing our independent federal judiciary. It is too important to be treated like an election year pawn. Our federal courts – from the Supreme Court all the way down – deserve to be at full strength, and the Senate needs to treat fairly the dozens of nominees before us who all have earned bipartisan support. It is not fair to attack sitting judges for political gain. And it is also not fair to make allegations against judges who, as nominees, cannot respond without receiving a public hearing.

He added: “If the Republican leaders of this body want to distinguish themselves from the rhetoric of the campaign trail, they need to change course here in the Senate. Actions speak louder than words.”

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