Senate Confirms Judicial Nominee For Third Circuit

Vanaskie Is First Judicial Nomination Considered By Senate Since March 17

WASHINGTON – The Senate Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to confirm another long-pending nomination to the federal judiciary, Judge Thomas Vanaskie to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Vanaskie’s nomination has been pending before the full Senate since December 3, more than four months.  The final vote on confirmation was 77-20.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has been urging Senate Republicans to lift objections to considering noncontroversial nominations since last year.

“I appreciate the significant steps taken by the majority leader to address the crisis created by Senate Republican obstruction of the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities,” said Leahy.  “Their refusal to promptly to consider nominations is a dramatic departure from the Senate’s traditional practice of prompt and routine consideration of noncontroversial nominees.  The majority leader was required to file five cloture petitions to break through the logjam.”

Earlier today, the Senate confirmed the long-stalled nomination of Chris Schroeder to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. After a nearly nine-month delay since the nomination was reported by the Judiciary Committee, it was confirmed in a strong bipartisan vote.

Republican objections to time agreements to debate and vote on pending nominations have resulted in a backlog of two dozen judicial nominations awaiting final consideration by the Senate.  Of the 24 nominations pending, 18 were reported by the Judiciary Committee with no objection.  During the three-hour debate on Vanaksie’s nomination, no Senator spoke in opposition to his nomination.

The Senate has confirmed just 19 circuit and district court nominations, compared to 45 confirmed by this date in President Bush’s administration.  In addition to the 24 judicial nominations awaiting votes by the full Senate, 14 executive nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee are pending before the full Senate, including 10 noncontroversial nominations for U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal vacancies.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Nomination Of Thomas Vanaskie To The Court of Appeals For The Third Circuit
April 21, 2010

The Senate just devoted almost three hours to the nomination of Thomas Vanaskie.  Senate Republicans demanded this extended time for debate.  I thank Senator Specter and Senator Casey for their statements.  The Senators from Pennsylvania know Judge Vanaskie best, and strongly support him. 

I was glad to see Chairman Dodd, Senator Brown of Ohio and Senator Kaufman come to use some of the time to talk about Wall Street reform.  That is what we should be working on.  Wall Street reform, patent reform, and other matters that are important to the American people are what we should be debating.  I was glad to see that time not wasted in another extended quorum call because those who demanded this time to debate the nomination did not use it. 

I was glad to hear Senator Hagan talk about the two North Carolina nominees to the Fourth Circuit.  They are among the 25 judicial nominees that Republicans have objected to considering even though they were voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously or nearly so. 

With respect to the President’s judicial nominees, as I have said, we are well behind the pace I set as Chairman when the Senate was considering President Bush’s nominees during the second year of his presidency.  By this date in President Bush’s second year, the Senate with a Democratic majority, had moved ahead to confirm 45 of his Federal circuit and district court judges.  So far during President Obama’s presidency, Senate Republicans have allowed votes on only 18 of his Federal circuit and district court nominations.  During the first two years of President Bush’s presidency we moved forward to confirm 100 of his judicial nominees.  Republican obstruction of President Obama’s nominations makes it unlikely that the Senate will reach 50 such confirmations.  Last year they allowed only 12 Federal circuit and district court nominees to be confirmed, the lowest number in more than 50 years.

Today, thanks to the perseverance of the majority leader and the Senators from Pennsylvania, we will consider and confirm only the 19th of President Obama’s Federal circuit and district court nominees.  I have already noted Judge Vanaskie’s qualifications.  There is no dispute that he is well qualified.  Indeed, the only concern his opponents have raised is their fixation that no Federal judge be aware of foreign law.  As Senator Specter has explained, the matter on which Judge Vanaskie is criticized was a case involving an international treaty.  To those whose ideology clouds their judgment, I remind them that the Constitution of the United States, our Constitution, expressly provides that the judicial power of the United States extends to cases arising under the Constitution, laws of the United States “and Treaties.”  Treaties are international by their nature.  How treaties are interpreted by other courts in other jurisdictions is relevant.  In fact, Justice Scalia observed, when writing for the unanimous Court in Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., 516 U.S. 217, 226 (1996): 

Because a treaty ratified by the United States is not only the law of the land, see U.S. Const., Art. II, § 2, but also an agreement among sovereign powers, we have traditionally considered as aids to its interpretation the negotiating and drafting history (travaux préparatoires) and postratification understanding of the contracting parties.

I appreciate the significant steps taken by the majority leader to address the crisis created by Senate Republican obstruction of the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities.  Their refusal to promptly to consider nominations is a dramatic departure from the Senate’s traditional practice of prompt and routine consideration of noncontroversial nominees.  The majority leader was required to file five cloture petitions to break through the logjam.  I, again, urge the Senate Republican leadership to reverse its course and its obstructionist practices.  Those practices have obstructed Senate action and led to the backlog of almost 100 nominations pending before the Senate awaiting final action. These are all nominations favorably reported by the committees of jurisdiction.  Most are nominations that were reported without opposition or with a small minority of negative votes.  Regrettably, this has been an ongoing Republican strategy and practice during President Obama's presidency. I hope it will now, finally, be abandoned and we will be allowed to make progress after weeks and months of delay.

The vote on the confirmation of Judge Vanaksie’s nomination is the first vote on judicial nominations that the Senate will hold in five weeks.  Despite the dozens of judicial nominations ready for Senate consideration, none has been allowed to move forward for over a month.  These are nominations to fill longstanding vacancies in the Federal courts. Of the 25 pending judicial nominations, 18 were reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee without any Republican Senator voting against. I have been urging the Senate Republican leadership for months to allow votes on these noncontroversial nominations and to enter into time agreements to debate the others.  We need to clear the backlog of nominations and move forward. 

Judicial vacancies have skyrocketed to over 100, more than 40 of which have been designated “judicial emergencies.”  Caseloads and backlogs continue to grow while vacancies are left open longer and longer.  On this date in President Bush's first term, not only had the Senate confirmed 45 Federal district and circuit court judges, but there were just seven judicial nominations on the calendar.  All seven were confirmed within nine days.  By the end of this month, which is nine days from now, we should clear the backlog that Republican obstruction has created and vote on the judicial nominations stalled on the Senate Executive Calendar. 

By this date during President Bush’s first term, circuit court nominations had waited less than a week, on average, before being voted on and confirmed.  By contrast, currently stalled by Senate Republicans are circuit court nominees reported by the Judiciary Committee as long ago as five months, in November of last year. The seven circuit court nominees the Senate has been allowed to consider so far have waited an average of 124 days after being reported before being allowed to be considered and confirmed.

I congratulate Judge Vanaskie and his family on what I expect will be strong bipartisan vote in favor of his confirmation to serve on the Third Circuit.  His confirmation is long overdue.

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