01.25.10

Senate Confirms District Court Nominee

Leahy Addresses Republican Claims About Delayed Confirmations

WASHINGTON – The Senate Monday night unanimously confirmed Rosanna M. Peterson to fill a district court vacancy in the Eastern District of Washington by a vote of 89-0.  Peterson, whose nomination was reported by the Judiciary Committee on December 10, is just the fourteenth judicial nomination confirmed this Congress.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Monday released a statement addressing Republican claims about delays in confirming judicial nominations.  Senate Republicans have objected to time agreements to consider noncontroversial judicial nominations pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.  Last week, after a four-month delay, the Senate confirmed Judge Beverly Martin to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I saw last week’s statement by the Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Republican Member, when the Senate finally considered the long-delayed nomination of Beverly Martin to the Eleventh Circuit,” Leahy said.  “He was misinformed about that nomination, as he was about the history of other nominations.  The Senate Democratic leadership sought an agreement for prompt consideration of Judge Martin’s nomination but was rebuffed by Republicans who were in no hurry to consider it.”

Leahy continued, “Indeed, we have been seeking time agreements for the consideration of both Judge Martin and Judge [Joseph] Greenaway [for the Third Circuit] for weeks and months. Republicans finally agreed at the end of last year to consider Judge Martin’s nomination after the recess. The efforts of the Democratic leadership to seek a time agreement for prompt consideration of Judge Martin’s nomination were rebuffed by Republicans, just as they are now refusing to consider the nomination of Judge Greenaway.”

Leahy again urged the Senate to promptly consider pending nominations.

 

None of the eight judicial nominations currently pending on the Executive Calendar are controversial,” he said.  “Six were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee without a single dissenting vote.  We have wasted weeks and months having to seek time agreements in order to consider nominations that were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and then confirmed unanimously by the Senate once they were finally allowed to be considered.”

Just four circuit court nominations and 10 district court nominations have been confirmed this Congress.  The Senate last year confirmed just 12 circuit and district court nominations, the fewest judicial nominations in more than 50 years.  There are more than 100 vacancies on federal benches across the country, and 20 future vacancies have been announced.

Seven judicial nominations remain pending on the Senate’s executive calendar, and the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider two circuit court nominees, and two district court nominations, during an executive business meeting on Thursday

# # # # #

 
Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Nomination Of Rosanna M. Peterson To The Eastern District Of Washington
January 25, 2010


Today the Senate considers the nomination of Rosanna M. Peterson to fill a judicial vacancy in the Eastern District of Washington. While I am pleased that we will consider, and I am confident the Senate will confirm, this nominee, I remain disappointed by the Republican delays and obstruction. 

This is only the fourteenth Federal circuit or district court nominee considered since President Obama was inaugurated over one year ago. By this date during President Bush’s second year in office, the Senate had confirmed more than double that number, having confirmed 30 of his judicial nominees to lifetime appointments on the Federal courts. 

Last Friday the Majority Leader tried to secure an agreement to take up the next judicial nominee on the Senate Executive Calendar, but Republican objection continued to stall consideration of Judge Joseph Greenaway’s nomination to the Third Circuit. That is a shame. He is a good judge. His nomination was reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee almost four months ago, on October 1 last year. Senator Sessions praised him at his confirmation hearing. I do not know why he is being stalled, and no one has explained.  His is one of the many outstanding judicial nominations reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee that remain stalled on the Senate Executive Calendar. They should have been confirmed last year, and would have been, but for Republican objection. When considered they will be confirmed, but not before being needlessly delayed for months. 

I saw last week’s statement by the Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Republican Member, when the Senate finally considered the long-delayed nomination of Beverly Martin to the Eleventh Circuit.  He was misinformed about that nomination, as he was about the history of other nominations.  In fact, I expedited consideration of Judge Martin’s nomination. The Senate Democratic leadership sought an agreement for prompt consideration of Judge Martin’s nomination but was rebuffed by Republicans who were in no hurry to consider it.  Indeed, we have been seeking time agreements for the consideration of both Judge Martin and Judge Greenaway for weeks and months. Republicans finally agreed at the end of last year to consider Judge Martin’s nomination after the recess. I had pressed for Judge Martin and the many other judicial nominees who had been reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee to be considered and confirmed before Christmas last year. Republicans would not agree. I asked repeatedly that we act on all the judicial nominees on the Senate Executive Calendar in December. The reason the Senate did not was not because any Democratic Senator objected.  It is solely because Republicans would not agree. 

The efforts of the Democratic leadership to seek a time agreement for prompt consideration of Judge Martin’s nomination were rebuffed by Republicans, just as they are now refusing to consider the nomination of Judge Greenaway.  

The Republicans unsuccessfully filibustered the nomination of Judge David Hamilton last November, having delayed its consideration for months. Republicans insisted on hours of debate for the nomination of Judge Andre Davis, who was confirmed with more than 70 votes. They insisted on debate on the nomination of Judge Gerard Lynch, who was confirmed with more than 90 votes.  As the Senate Democratic leadership was forced to work through a number of nominations denied consent for prompt consideration, the last Federal circuit court nominations considered before Judge Martin was Judge Hamilton in November. It is true that Judge Davis and Judge Hamilton were considered and confirmed by the Senate before Judge Martin, but they were also considered three months earlier by the Senate Judiciary Committee than Judge Martin.  They had been on the Senate Executive Calendar since before she was even nominated. I do not fault the Senate Democratic leadership for following that order of consideration. 

What the Ranking Republican Member of Judiciary does not acknowledge, and perhaps is unaware of, is that it was his own Republican leadership that slowed consideration of Judge Martin. Even the Ranking Republican Member has no excuse for the delay after November 19, when both Judge Davis and Judge Hamilton had been confirmed.  For the last two months, Judge Martin’s nomination was stalled because Republicans would not agree to consider it before January 20. 

Judge Martin’s nomination offers a troubling example, as well, of the consequences of the Republican strategy of obstruction and delay.  Even though Judge Martin was a well-respected district court judge with the strong support of both of her home state Republican Senators, Senator Chambliss and Senator Isakson, and the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, it took over four months to reach agreement with the Republican leadership for the Senate to consider her nomination.  

Regrettably, the nomination of Judge Greenaway of New Jersey to the Third Circuit is another example of these tactics. The Judiciary Committee favorably reported his nomination by unanimous consent last October 1, and he is now the longest pending judicial nomination on the Senate Executive Calendar. The Democratic leadership sought to build on our belated progress last week when we were allowed finally to consider and confirm Judge Martin. We asked for agreement to consider the nomination of Judge Greenaway. As the Majority Leader indicated last Friday: “[The Democratic] majority was in a position to agree to a vote on the nomination of Joseph Greenaway to be a U.S. circuit judge for the Third Circuit.  However, I was advised the Republicans would not agree to such request.” See Congressional Record, S166 (Jan. 22, 2010 daily ed.).  Again, Senate Republicans have withheld consent and have objected to consideration of a nominee. Instead, they would consent only to consideration of a district court nominee, Professor Peterson. While it is appropriate that the Senate considers Professor Peterson’s nomination today, we should also be able, in regular order, to consider other nominations without months of delay.

None of the eight remaining judicial nominations currently pending on the Senate Executive Calendar should be controversial.  Many, like Professor Peterson and Judge Greenaway, were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee without a single dissenting vote.  We have wasted weeks and months having to seek time agreements in order to consider nominations that were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and who are then confirmed unanimously by the Senate once they were finally allowed to be considered.

These obstructionist tactics from Republicans last year led to the lowest number of judicial confirmations in more than 50 years.  Only 12 of President Obama’s judicial nominations to Federal circuit and district courts were confirmed all last year.   The 12 Federal circuit and district court nominees confirmed last year was less than half of what we achieved during President Bush’s first tumultuous year.  In the second half of 2001, the Democratic majority in the Senate proceeded to confirm 28 judges.  In the 17 months that I chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during President Bush’s first term, the Senate confirmed 100 of his judicial nominees.

The Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Republican Member was also mistaken last week when he stated that Democrats sent 40 of President Bush’s judicial nominations back to the White House in August 2001.  It was the objections of the Republican minority, in fact objection by the Republican leader, Senator Lott, that resulted in the Senate returning over 40 of President Bush’s nominations before the August recess to the White House. 

Just before the Senate recessed in early August 2001, the Senate’s Democratic leadership requested all pending judicial nominations be retained through the August recess. That is right; the Democrats in the Senate were asking that the judicial nominations not be returned but be allowed to continue in place. I know; I was the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.     In fact, the only two nominations the Democratic leadership sought to return to the President were two controversial executive nominees: Mary Sheila Gall, nominated to be Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Otto J. Reich to be an Assistant Secretary of State.  The Commerce Committee had voted not to report the Gall nomination. The Reich nomination had become highly controversial and the Assistant Majority Leader sought to give the President an opportunity to reconsider the nomination. The proposal by the Democratic leadership would have continued in place every other nomination—including every judicial nomination— notwithstanding the Senate rule that nominations should be returned to the President when the Senate recesses for a period of more than 30 days.

At that time it was the Republican Leader, Senator Lott, who objected to the Democratic consent request and insisted on returning all nominations, including all judicial nominations, to President Bush in early August. See Congressional Record Vol. 147, No. 112, S8888 (Aug.3, 2001). That Republican objection resulted in a strict application of the Senate rules which required needless paperwork and occasioned more unnecessary delay in early September 2001.  

I remember it well. In fact, in order to continue making progress on judicial nominations despite the action by the Senate Republican leader, I convened two unprecedented confirmation hearings during the August recess in 2001 for President Bush’s nominees whose nominations were not technically pending before the Senate.  They had been returned to the White House in accordance with Senator Lott’s objection and were not renominated until the Senate reconvened in September.   As Chairman, I convened those hearings as yet another indication of my commitment to filling vacancies on the Federal courts. We had already at that time been delayed for a month in reorganizing the Senate, as well as by President Bush’s decision to turn away from a 50-year-old precedent to delay the American Bar Association’s evaluation of a judicial nominee’s qualifications until the nomination is made public. Even with the subsequent September 11 attacks, and the anthrax attacks in the Senate, we continued our work and ultimately confirmed 28 judicial nominees that year, including 10 confirmations in December 2001. By contrast, in December 2009, Senate Republicans would only allow consideration of three judicial nominations, returned two to the White House and carried over eight, including Judge Martin’s, without final action.

There are currently more than 100 vacancies on the Federal courts around the country.  Professor Peterson will fill one of those vacancies but we must do better.  The American people deserve better. The cost will be felt by ordinary Americans seeking justice in our overburdened Federal courts.  

I am pleased that today we will confirm Professor Peterson. When confirmed, Professor Peterson will be the first woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.  She earned her B.A. and her M.A. from the University of North Dakota and her J.D., with distinction, from the University of North Dakota School of Law, where she served as editor-in-chief of the law review and was chosen by her professors as the “Outstanding Graduate.” 

After graduation, Professor Peterson clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle, whom she would now replace on the district court. Over the course of her 18-year legal career, Professor Peterson has been a law professor and a lawyer with a diverse private practice.  Professor Peterson has the strong support of both home state Senators, Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell. 

I congratulate Professor Peterson and her family on her confirmation today. 

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693