04.24.08

Opening Statement At Executive Business Meeting

We convene this morning with another full agenda.  I trust we will be able to turn to it immediately following my brief opening remarks and those of Senator Specter.

I begin by noting that this is the first business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee to be webcast live.  I am a strong proponent of webcasting and am delighted that now in addition to webcasting our hearings we are able to provide greater access to the American public by webcasting our business meetings, as well.

On our agenda today are several items. We have the bipartisan Kennedy-Specter-Leahy State Secrets Protection Act that we introduced back in January to aid courts when confronting the burgeoning claims of state secrets privilege by the Bush administration.  That assertion is being used by the Government to avoid judicial review and accountability by ending cases without consideration of the merits. 

We held a Committee hearing on this issue in February after which Senator Feingold, the Chair of our Constitution Subcommittee, and Senator Whitehouse joined as cosponsors of the bill.  A number of other thoughtful Senators have joined as cosponsors, as well. 

I first listed this matter for consideration by the Committee at our business meeting on March 6.  I hope, after holdovers and time for study, that now seven weeks later we can consider it and report it to the Senate. 

 

Next we have a bill that Senator Kohl has introduced to provide federal assistance to state courts so that they may better provide interpreters and thereby do a better job rendering justice.  Six of us have cosponsored that bill, including Senator Specter.  I do not believe debate on that measure will take long.

 

Then we can turn our attention to an issue on which a number of us have been working and concerned about.  Senator Schumer has introduced a bill to help the administration expedite the naturalization applications for members of the Armed Forces by creating a liaison at the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services with the FBI and by setting processing deadlines for these applications.  The current naturalization backlogs have been a source of concern for many, and without greater efforts, upwards from half a million law-abiding people who have played by all the rules and waited in line and applied for citizenship will see their applications stalled until it is too late to participate in the important upcoming elections this fall.  We raised this matter with the FBI Director at our oversight hearing in March, and again with Secretary Chertoff at our oversight hearing in April.  The administration’s response remains wanting.  Accordingly, I hope the Committee will today give its attention to Senator Schumer’s bill to ensure that the naturalization process for members of the Armed Forces who seek U.S. citizenship is carried out as efficiently as possible.  

 

Then we can turn our attention to a Senate Resolution intended to clarify and recognize that Senator McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 while his father was serving in the United States Navy should not disqualify him constitutionally from running for President.  I have said publicly that I believe no change in law is needed.  In response to my question, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, a former Federal judge, agreed with me that the circumstances of Senator McCain’s birth should not disqualify him from being considered a “natural born Citizen” under the Constitution. He agreed with me that anyone born to American citizens is a “natural born Citizen” and satisfies the purposes of Article II of the Constitution. 

 

Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson and Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe analyzed the issue and came to the same conclusion based on the Framers’ intent, the purpose of the provision and historical precedent.  When we reach the measure, I will make their letter and analysis part of our record. We should pass this bipartisan resolution to put to rest speculation that Senator McCain is not eligible to run for President because of the circumstances of his birth in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone and that somehow those circumstances adversely affected his citizenship status.

 

This bipartisan measure derives from Senator McCaskill’s efforts.  She introduced the resolution, which Senator Coburn and I have cosponsored, as have both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, and Senator Webb.

 

There are additional resolutions commemorating Margaret Truman Daniels and Dith Pran for their lifetime accomplishments.

 

Finally, we have the opportunity today to report three more lifetime judicial nominations to the Federal courts, a U.S. Marshal nomination and the nomination of Senator Martinez’s brother to be a member of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.  The judicial nominees are from those who participated at the hearing that Senator Kohl chaired earlier this month.  I thank the senior Senator from Wisconsin.

 

I have already announced our next judicial nominations hearing to be chaired by Senator Cardin.  Now that we have received the ABA peer review and the paperwork is completed on the nomination of Steven Agee to the Fourth Circuit we will proceed to consider that nomination just as I have said we would since we received the nomination in March.  In deference to Senator Lugar and Senator Kyl’s requests, I have included judicial nominees from their states at that hearing, as well.

 

To get through this agenda we will need the cooperation and attention of members from both sides of the aisle.      

 

With that brief opening, I turn to the Ranking Member for his brief opening remarks and then will turn to the agenda.

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