07.10.12

Leahy Urges Votes On Pending Judicial Nominations Without Further Delay

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, July 10, 2012) – The Senate will vote Tuesday on the nomination of John Fowlkes, Jr., a federal district court nominee pending on the floor since April, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is urging final votes on nominees to long-pending judicial vacancies throughout the country.

“What the American people and the overburdened Federal courts need are qualified judges to administer justice,” said Leahy. “They are not helped by these partisan games.  Following the most extended period of historically high vacancy rates in the history of our District Courts, nearly one in every 11 Federal judgeships remains vacant.  This is more than twice the vacancy rate by this date during the first term of President Bush.”

While consensus nominees like Fowlkes have in the past been promptly considered by the Senate, they have instead faced long delays in confirmation since the start of the Obama administration.  Senate Republicans have withheld consent to schedule routine votes on pending nominations, and recently signaled their intent to further stall confirmation of circuit court nominations this year. Four circuit court nominees are pending on before the full Senate, awaiting final consideration, including three that were approved by voice vote in the Judiciary Committee. Another 11 district court nominees are awaiting a vote on the floor, and most of which approved by the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming support.

With 77 judicial vacancies throughout the country, the Judiciary Committee continues to schedule hearings for pending nominations. This Wednesday, the Committee will hold a hearing for three pending district nominees, meet to hear testimony from Thomas M. Durkin, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Jon S. Tigar, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of California, William H. Orrick, III, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of California. The Committee will meet in executive session on Thursday, where seven district court nominees will be considered. While the Committee has remained active in moving nominations to the floor, Republican opposition has kept the Senate from making further progress.

“Each day that Senate Republicans refuse because of their political agenda to confirm these qualified judicial nominees who have been reviewed and voted on by the Judiciary Committee is another day that a judge could have been working to administer justice,” said Leahy. “Just as it is with the economy and with jobs, the American people do not want to hear excuses about why Republicans in Congress will not help them.”

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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

Gershwin A. Drain* (ED MI)                                              Reported on March 29, 2012

William J. Kayatta, Jr. (1st Circuit)                                    Reported on April 19, 2012

Kevin McNulty (D NJ)                                                         Reported on April 19, 2012

Michael A. Shipp (D NJ)                                                      Reported on April 19, 2012

Stephanie Marie Rose (SD IA)                                             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

*Indicates this nominee will fill a Judicial Emergency

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Nomination Of John Fowlkes, Jr. To The U.S. District Court For The Western District Of Tennessee

July 10, 2012

Regrettably, Senate Republicans are following through on their partisan opposition to the President by seeking to slam the door on qualified, consensus judicial nominees who have bipartisan support.  In doing so, they seek to take advantage of the delaying tactics that they have been employing for the last three and one half years.  This is all to the detriment of the American people.

What the American people and the overburdened Federal courts need are qualified judges to administer justice.  They are not helped by these partisan games.  Following the most extended period of historically high vacancy rates in the history of our District Courts, nearly one in every 11 Federal judgeships remains vacant.  This is more than twice the vacancy rate by this date during the first term of President Bush.

This chart should help people understand how far behind we remain in filling the judicial vacancies to provide the Federal judges that the American people need to get justice in our Federal courts.  This compares judicial vacancies during the first terms of President Bush and President Obama.  It shows the stark contrast to the way in which we moved to reduce judicial vacancies during the last Republican presidency. 

This chart shows that the Senate can do better because it has done better.  During President Bush’s first term we reduced the number of judicial vacancies by almost 75 percent.  When I became Chairman in the summer of 2001, there were 110 vacancies.  As Chairman, I worked with the administration and Senators from both sides of the aisle to confirm 100 judicial nominees of a conservative Republican President in 17 months. 

We continued when in the minority to work with Senate Republicans and confirm President Bush’s consensus judicial nominations well into 2004, a presidential election year.  At the end of that presidential term, the Senate had acted to confirm 205 circuit and district court nominees.  By July 2004 we had reduced judicial vacancies to 29. 

By comparison, vacancies have long remained near or above 80, while little comparative progress has been made during the four years of President Obama’s first term.  There are still 77 vacancies as of July 2012 – that is more than two and one half times the number of vacancies at this point in President Bush’s first term.

Each day that Senate Republicans refuse because of their political agenda to confirm these qualified judicial nominees who have been reviewed and voted on by the Judiciary Committee is another day that a judge could have been working to administer justice.  Hardworking and hard-pressed Americans should not have to wait years to have their cases decided.  Just as it is with the economy and with jobs, the American people do not want to hear excuses about why Republicans in Congress will not help them.  More importantly, they do not want to hear that the supposed justification is partisan.  This is precisely the reason why Congress’s approval rating among the American people is so low. 

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in its recent report confirms what I have been saying.  I also have prepared this chart, which is taken from the CRS Report.

They report that the median time circuit court nominees have had to wait before a Senate vote has skyrocketed from 18 days for President Bush’s circuit court nominees to 132 days for President Obama’s circuit court nominees.

Those interested in the Tennessee nominee today will remember how hard we had to work for almost 10 months, despite the support of Senator Alexander and Senator Corker, to get Senate Republicans to allow consideration of the nomination of Judge Jane Stranch to the Sixth Circuit.

When Republican Senators try to take credit for the Senate having reached what they regard as their “quota” for circuit confirmations this year, they should remember that the Senate would not even have had an up or down vote on three of the five of them without the Majority Leader first having to file for cloture to overcome Republican obstruction -- the Senate has yet to vote on a single circuit court nominee nominated by President Obama this year.

Since 1980, the only presidential election year in which no circuit nominee who was nominated that year and confirmed that year was in 1996, when Senate Republicans shut down the process against President Clinton’s circuit nominees.

The fact that Republican stalling tactics have meant that circuit court nominees that should have been confirmed in the spring are still awaiting a vote after July 4th is no excuse for not moving forward this month to confirm the circuit nominees who were voted out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support.

The American people who are waiting for justice do not care about excuses.  They do not care about some false sense of settling political scores.  They want justice.  Just as they want action on measures the President has suggested to help the economy and create jobs rather than political calculations about what will help Republican candidates in the elections in November. 

I hope that Senate Republicans will reconsider their ill-conceived partisan strategy and work with us to meet the needs of the American people.  There is no reason the Senate cannot vote to confirm the other 15 well-qualified judicial nominees reported by the Committee.  There is no good reason we cannot work together to help solve the problem of high judicial vacancies and better serve the American people.

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