12.01.09

Senate Confirms California District Court Nominee

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009) – The Senate Tuesday afternoon confirmed Judge Jacqueline Nguyen by a vote of 97-0 to fill a vacancy on the federal district court in the Central District of California.
 
Nguyen will become the first Vietnamese American to serve as a federal district court judge in the United States, and the first Asian Pacific American woman to serve as a federal district court judge in California.  She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 23, and her nomination was reported by the Committee without dissent on October 15.
 
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised the Senate’s action on the nomination.
 
“Today is an important milestone not only for Judge Nguyen, the Vietnamese American community and the Asian Pacific American community, but for all Americans,” said Leahy.  “I commend President Obama for following his commitment to nominate men and women to the Federal bench who reflect the diversity of America.  Diversity on the bench helps ensure that the words ‘equal justice under law,’ inscribed in Vermont marble over the entrance to the Supreme Court are a reality, and that justice is rendered fairly and impartially.”
 
Nguyen is just the tenth lower court nomination confirmed by the Senate this year.   The Senate has confirmed fewer judicial nominations this year than in the first year of the preceding four administrations.  Seven judicial nominations, including four circuit court nominations, are pending on the Senate’s executive calendar.  One nomination has been pending before the Senate since September 10, when it was reported by the Judiciary Committee without dissent.
 
“During President Bush’s last year in office, we reduced judicial vacancies to as low as 34, even though it was a presidential election year.  Judicial vacancies have now spiked,” Leahy said.  “There are currently 98 vacancies on our Federal circuit and district courts, and 23 more have already been announced.  This is approaching record levels.  I know we can do better.  Justice should not be delayed or denied to any American because of overburdened courts and the lack of Federal judges.”
 
Five judicial nominations are scheduled to be considered during a Judiciary Committee business meeting on Thursday.  Information about pending judicial and executive nominations is available online on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Confirmation Of Jacqueline H. Nguyen
December 1, 2009

Today the Senate is considering the nomination of Judge Jacqueline Nguyen to a vacancy on the Federal Court in the Central District of California.  I am glad that we are able to proceed today with her confirmation.  I know the strains judges in Los Angeles are experiencing, and I only wish we were proceeding as well with confirmation of the other nominee for a vacancy on that court.
 
Judge Nguyen participated in a confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee on September 23.  Hers was an historic hearing at which, for the first time, three Asian Pacific American judicial nominees appeared together -- Judge Nguyen, Dolly Gee and Judge Edward Chen.  Indeed, three Asian Pacific American judicial nominees have never been confirmed in the same year. Of the 876 active judges serving on our Federal courts, only eight are Asian Pacific American.
 
We also held a November hearing for Judge Denny Chin, a well-respected judge on the Southern District of New York, whom President Obama has nominated for elevation to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Chin was the first Asian Pacific American appointed as a Federal district court judge outside the Ninth Circuit.  If confirmed to the Second Circuit, he will be the only active Asian Pacific American judge to serve on a Federal appellate court anywhere in the country.  It is unbelievable that with 179 Federal appellate court judgeships in our country, none are currently held by an Asian Pacific American.  More than 14 years have passed since an Asian Pacific American was nominated to a Federal appellate court.  This progress is long overdue.

I commend President Obama for following his commitment to nominate men and women to the Federal bench who reflect the diversity of America.  Diversity on the bench helps ensure that the words “equal justice under law,” inscribed in Vermont marble over the entrance to the Supreme Court are a reality, and that justice is rendered fairly and impartially.

Judge Jacqueline Nguyen will be the first Vietnamese American to serve as a Federal district court judge in the United States, and the first Asian Pacific American woman to serve as a Federal district court judge in the State of California.  Today is an important milestone not only for Judge Nguyen, the Vietnamese American community and the Asian Pacific American community, but for all Americans.

Judge Nguyen, Ms. Gee, and Judge Chen were reported favorably to the Senate on October 15, more than six weeks ago.  I am glad we are proceeding with Judge Nguyen but urge Senate Republicans to allow the other nominations to proceed to Senate debate and votes, as well.  When she is confirmed, Ms. Gee will be the first female Chinese American Federal district court judge in the Nation.  When he is confirmed, Judge Chen will be the first Asian Pacific American Federal district court judge in the history of the Northern District of California.  Judge Chen is already the first Asian Pacific American to serve in that district as a magistrate judge.  The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has rated the three of them unanimously as “well qualified,” their highest rating.

I want to thank the Committee's Ranking Member, Senator Sessions, for his cooperation in securing the recent confirmations of Judge Christina Reiss of Vermont and Judge Abdul Kallon of Alabama before the Thanksgiving recess.  They were confirmed 17 days after their hearing.  That prompt action by the Senate demonstrates what we can do when we work in good faith.  It should not take weeks for the Judiciary Committee to report nominations and additional weeks and months before Senate Republicans allow nominations to be considered by the Senate.  We have shown what we can do.
 
Following the model we have established for Judges Reiss and Kallon, the Senate should be able to consider and confirm all eight of the judicial nominations currently on the Executive Calendar awaiting final action by the Senate, the additional five judicial nominees included at confirmation hearings in November, and Justice Thompson of Rhode Island, who had her hearing this morning.  Acting on these nominations, we can reach a total of 23 Federal circuit and district court confirmations this year.  That is well short of the total of 28 a Democratic Senate majority worked to confirm in President Bush’s first year in office, 2001, but better than the nine confirmations achieved in the first 11 months of this year.
 
This year we have witnessed unprecedented delays in the consideration of qualified and noncontroversial nominations. We have had to waste weeks seeking time agreements in order to consider nominations that were then confirmed unanimously.  We have seen nominees strongly supported by their home state Senators, both Republican and Democratic, delayed for months and unsuccessfully filibustered.  I have been concerned that these actions by the Republican leadership signal their return to their practices in the 1990s, which resulted in more than doubling circuit court vacancies and led to the pocket filibuster of more than 60 of President Clinton's nominees.  The crisis they created eventually led to public criticism of their actions by Chief Justice Rehnquist during those years.

I hope that instead of withholding consent and threatening filibusters of President Obama's judicial nominees, Senate Republicans will treat the nominees of President Obama fairly. I made sure that we treated President Bush's nominees more fairly than President Clinton's nominees had been treated.  In the 17 months that I served as chairman of this Committee during President Bush's first term, the Senate confirmed 100 of his judicial nominations.  We should continue that progress, but need Republican cooperation to do so.  I urge them to turn away from their partisanship and begin to work with the President and the Senate Majority Leader.
 
During the month of December in 2001, a Democratic-led Senate confirmed 10 of President Bush’s judicial nominees, bringing the total number of nominations confirmed that year to 28.  We will have to exceed that number this month in order to get to 20 confirmations, and a possible total of 23 this year.  I fear that Senate Republican delaying tactics will, instead, yield the lowest total in modern history.  If Senate Republicans continue their delaying tactics, the total could be as low as that during the 1996 session when a Republican Senate majority would only allow 17 judicial confirmations all session, including none for circuit courts.
 
Today, with the confirmation of Judge Nguyen, we will finally move into double digits in the confirmations of Federal circuit and district court judges -- hers is our 10th this year.  Although there have been nearly 110 judicial vacancies this year on our Federal circuit and district courts around the country, only 10 vacancies have been filled.  That is wrong.  The American people deserve better.
 
It has not been for lack of qualified nominees.  As I have noted, there are seven more nominations awaiting Senate action on the Senate Executive Calendar and another six who have had their confirmation hearings and can be considered once approved by the Judiciary Committee.  The Senate should do better and could if Senate Republicans would remove their holds and stop the delaying tactics.  

During President Bush’s last year in office, we reduced judicial vacancies to as low as 34, even though it was a presidential election year.  Judicial vacancies have now spiked.  There are currently 98 vacancies on our Federal circuit and district courts, and 23 more have already been announced.  This is approaching record levels.  I know we can do better.  Justice should not be delayed or denied to any American because of overburdened courts and the lack of Federal judges.

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