03.07.11

Senate Confirms Three District Court Judges

Two Nominees To Fill Judicial Emergencies

WASHINGTON (Monday, Mar. 7, 2011) – The Senate Monday night unanimously confirmed three pending judicial nominees to fill vacancies on district courts in California and Illinois.  The nominees confirmed were Anthony Battaglia to the District of Southern California; and Sue Myerscough and James Shadid to fill judicial emergency vacancies in the Central District of Illinois.  The nominees received unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2010, but the Senate did not take final action on the nominations before the 111th Congress adjourned.  President Obama resubmitted the nominations in January, and the Judiciary Committee again reported the nominations with unanimous support. 

The Senate has confirmed a total of 10 circuit and district court nominations this year, and confirmed just 60 circuit and district court nominations last Congress.  For more information about pending judicial and executive nominations, visit the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released the following statement after the Senate votes. 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On Judicial Nominations
March 7, 2011

With judicial vacancies still at 100, nearly half of them judicial emergencies, the Senate’s action today on two nominees to fill longstanding judicial emergency vacancies in Illinois and one of the many vacancies in California is much needed.  I thank the Senate majority leader for scheduling action on these important nominations and the Republican leader for his cooperation. I commend Senator Durbin for his efforts to fill longstanding vacancies that have plagued the Central District of Illinois.

These nominees are three of the 13 judicial nominations that were unanimously reported last year and have now been unanimously reported, again, this year by the Judiciary Committee.  They could – and, in my view, should -- have been considered and confirmed last year.  Instead, they were returned to the President without final Senate action despite their outstanding qualifications, and despite the needs of the American people to have judges available to hear cases in these Federal courts.  The President has had to renominate them, the Senate Judiciary Committee has had to reconsider them and now, finally, the Senate is being allowed to consider these sorely needed judges for Illinois and California.

Justice Sue Myerscough and Judge James Shadid, were each nominated to fill emergency vacancies in the Central District of Illinois.  I have spoken on numerous occasions over the last two years about the need for the Senate to confirm them.  I urged their consideration in my statement last Monday and am thankful that they are being considered tonight. 

Their confirmations will help relieve the Chief Judge of that district, who is the only active judge for the entire district.  I have previously recounted how Chief Judge McCuskey wrote to Senator Durbin last November urging the Senate to take action to fill these vacancies. Chief Judge McCuskey has been commuting 90 miles between Urbana and Springfield and relying on senior judges to administer justice in the district.  Judge McCuskey had a heart attack a few years ago.  Reportedly, when his cardiologist told him that he needed to reduce his stress level, the Chief Judge replied that  “only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.”  Well, Chief Judge McCuskey, it has taken too long but we hope finally to provide you some relief.  To the people of the Central District of Illinois I say, help is finally on the way.

Judge Battaglia of California will fill a vacancy in the Southern District of California where he has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since 1993. Last November we heard from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which encompasses California.  They wrote to us last year, noting:  “In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission.  While there are many areas of serious need, we write . . . to emphasize our desperate need for judges.  Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant. . . . We respectfully request that the Senate act on judicial nominees without delay.”  I agree. I am glad to see the Senate finally consider and confirm Judge Battaglia. 

On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will consider the nomination of another California judicial nominee, John Kronstadt, who is nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy in the Central District of California.  In the next couple weeks we should reconsider and report again the nomination of Edward Chen to fill a judicial emergency vacancy in the Northern District of California.  

Recently Seth Stern reported in Congressional Quarterly criticism from Chief Judge Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who warned that the breakdown in the judicial confirmation process is “injuring the country.”  There are two judicial nominees to fill longstanding vacancies for his court still waiting for final consideration by the Senate.  The Senate should consider and confirm them without further delay. I ask that a copy of the article be included in the Record.

Besides the nominees to fill vacancies in the District of Columbia, also reported from the Judiciary Committee and before the Senate are nominees to fill judicial vacancies in North Carolina, and a judicial emergency vacancy in New York.  The Judiciary Committee has also now considered the renomination of Susan Carney of Connecticut to the Second Circuit and Michael Simon to be a District Court Judge in Oregon.  More than half of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of those nominations.  They should be debated and confirmed without delay, as well. 

I expect to be able to move forward with reporting two additional Federal circuit nominees and four additional district court nominees this week.  We are holding hearings every two weeks and hope finally to begin to bend the curve and start to lower judicial vacancies across the country. 

Federal judicial vacancies around the country number too many and they have persisted for too long.  That is why Chief Justice Roberts, Attorney General Holder, White House Counsel Bob Bauer and many others—including the President of the United States—have spoken out and urged the Senate to act. 

Nearly one out of every eight Federal judgeships is vacant.  This puts at serious risk the ability of all Americans to have a fair hearing in court.  The real price being paid for these unnecessary delays is that the judges that remain are overburdened and the American people who depend on them are being denied hearings and justice in a timely fashion.

Regrettably, the progress we made during the first two years of the Bush administration has not been duplicated, and the progress we made over the eight years from 2001 to 2009 to reduce judicial vacancies from 110 to a low of 34 was reversed.  The vacancy rate we reduced from 10 percent at the end of President Clinton’s term to less than four percent in 2008 has now risen back to over 10 percent.  In contrast to the sharp reduction in vacancies we made during President Bush’s first two years when the Democratically-controlled Senate confirmed 100 of his judicial nominations, only 60 of President Obama’s judicial nominations were allowed to be considered and confirmed during his first two years.  We have not kept up with the rate of attrition, let alone brought the vacancies down.  By now they should have been cut in half.  Instead, they continue to hover around 100.

The Senate must do better.  The Nation cannot afford further delays by the Senate in taking action on the nominations pending before it. Judicial vacancies on courts throughout the country hinder the Federal judiciary’s ability to fulfill its constitutional role.  They create a backlog of cases that prevents people from having their day in court.  This is unacceptable.   

We can consider and confirm this President’s nominations to the Federal bench in a timely manner.  President Obama has worked with Democratic and Republican home state Senators to identify superbly qualified, consensus nominations.  None of the nominations on the Executive Calendar are controversial.  They all have the support of their home state Senators, Republicans and Democrats.  All have a strong commitment to the rule of law and a demonstrated faithfulness to the Constitution.

During President Bush’s first term, his first four tumultuous years in office, we proceeded to confirm 205 of his judicial nominations. We confirmed 100 of those during the 17 months I was Chairman during President Bush’s first two years in office. So far in President Obama’s third year in office, the Senate has only been allowed to consider 70 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  We remain well short of the benchmark we set during the Bush administration.   When we approach it we can reduce vacancies from the historically high levels at which they have remained throughout these first three years of the Obama administration to the historically low level we reached toward the end of the Bush administration.

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