Senate Confirms Two Nominations To Fill Judicial Emergencies

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, April 12, 2011) – The Senate Tuesday voted unanimously to confirm two pending nominations to fill judicial emergency vacancies in New York and California.  The Senate has confirmed 17 judicial nominations this Congress; there are 15 judicial nominations pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.  For more information about pending judicial nominations, visit the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.


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


Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Judicial Nominations
April 12, 2011


We continue to work to bring down the number of judicial vacancies that have remained at historically alarming levels for the last three years.  One in every nine Federal judgeships remains vacant as judicial vacancies stand at 96. 

I thank the Majority Leader for scheduling votes on two more judicial emergency vacancies.  Vincent Briccetti has been nominated to fill a judgeship in the Southern District of New York and John Kronstadt to fill a judgeship in the Central District of California.  I believe that they both could be confirmed unanimously.  They were reported by the Judiciary Committee unanimously more than one month ago. 

With cooperation from both sides of the aisle, the Senate could consider many more of the 17 judicial nominees currently ready for final action, and could do so before the Senate takes its Easter recess at the end of this week.   Doing so would fulfill our responsibility to help address the vacancies crisis that puts at serious risk the ability of Americans to get a fair and timely hearing for their cases in Federal court.  

All 17 of the judicial nominations pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar were reported by a majority of the Judiciary Committee after Members had an opportunity to review thoroughly extensive materials provided in response to our questionnaire, to question the nominees at a hearing, and to send written follow-up questions to the nominees.  All of them are ready for final Senate action.  With Federal judicial vacancies continuing to hover around 100, we should act responsibly by voting promptly on these nominations. 

Two of the nominees currently awaiting a Senate vote have twice been considered by the Judiciary Committee and twice reported with strong bipartisan support, first last year and again in February.  They are Susan Carney of Connecticut to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Michael Simon to fill an emergency vacancy on the District Court in Oregon. Two of the nominations have been reported favorably by the Committee three times—that of Goodwin Liu to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the Ninth Circuit and that of Jack McConnell, reported with bipartisan support to fill a vacancy on the District of Rhode Island.  Another currently pending nomination has been reported favorably four times, that of Judge Edward Chen to a judicial emergency vacancy on the Northern District of California.  All of these nominations have long been ready for a Senate vote.  So are nominations now pending to fill a judicial vacancy on the D.C. Circuit, judicial emergency vacancies in Tennessee, Florida and another in New York, two vacancies in Virginia, two vacancies in New Jersey, another vacancy in New York, and a vacancy on the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands. 

It is actually a sign of progress that we are today proceeding to confirm two judicial nominees reported last month.  I hope that we can work to restore regular order in considering judicial nominations and that, at a minimum, the Senate will be allowed to proceed before the recess to confirm those judicial nominations reported with bipartisan support.  All 17 of the pending nominees have a strong commitment to the rule of law and a demonstrated faithfulness to the Constitution.  All should have an up or down vote after being considered by the Judiciary Committee, and without weeks of needless delay.

If we join together we can make real progress by considering all of the judicial nominations now on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.  If the Senate were to take favorable action on the 17 judicial nominations currently pending and awaiting final Senate consideration, we could reduce vacancies to below 90.  In fact, we would be able to reduce them below 80 for the first time since July 2009. 

Federal judicial vacancies around the country still number too many, and they have persisted for too long.  Whereas the Democratic majority in the Senate reduced vacancies from 110 to 60 in President Bush’s first two years, judicial vacancies still number 96 more than 26 months into President Obama’s term.  By now, judicial vacancies should have been cut in half, but we have barely kept up with attrition. 

Regrettably, the Senate has not reduced vacancies dramatically as we did during the Bush administration.  In fact, the Senate has reversed course during the Obama administration, with the slow pace of confirmations keeping judicial vacancies at crisis levels.  Over the eight years of the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2009, we reduced judicial vacancies from 110 to a low of 34.  That has now been reversed, with vacancies staying above 90 since August 2009.  The vacancy rate -- which was reduced from 10 percent at the end of President Clinton’s term, to six percent by this date in President Bush’s third year, and ultimately to less than four percent in 2008 -- has now swelled to nearly 11 percent. 

The two nominations we consider today demonstrate that there is no reason the Senate cannot consider and confirm the President’s nominations to the Federal bench in a timely manner.  Both nominees show President Obama’s commitment to working with home state Senators to identify superbly qualified nominees in districts with vacancies.  I thank Senators Feinstein, Boxer, Schumer and Gillibrand for working with President Obama on these nominations and congratulate them along with the nominees and their families.

Judge John Kronstadt has been nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy in the Central District of California. He currently serves on the Los Angeles County Superior Court and previously spent 24 years in private practice. Judge Kronstadt earned his B.A. from Cornell University and his J.D. from Yale Law School.  The Judiciary Committee reported his nomination unanimously on March 10.

Vincent Briccetti has been nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy in the Southern District of New York.  An attorney for the past 30 years, Mr. Briccetti has spent time in private practice and as a Federal prosecutor.  He was unanimously rated by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary as well qualified to serve on the district court.  Mr. Briccetti earned his B.A. from Columbia University and his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law.  The Judiciary Committee also reported his nomination unanimously on March 10.

I have thanked the Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley, for his cooperation this year.  I see him taking credit for what he calls “our rapid pace.”  I am glad to see him echo my call to turn the page and end the days of tit for tat on judicial nominations.  That is what I did from the first days of the Bush administration in spite of how President Clinton’s nominees had been treated.   

We have a long way to go to do as well as we did during President Bush’s first term, when we confirmed 205 of his judicial nominations, bringing the vacancy rate down from 10 percent to just over four percent.  We confirmed 100 of those judicial nominations during the 17 months I was Chairman during President Bush’s first two years in office.  So far, well into President Obama’s third year in office, the Senate has only been allowed to consider 77 of President Obama’s Federal circuit and district court nominees.  We remain well short of the benchmarks we set during the Bush administration.  

The Senate must do better.  We must work together to ensure that the Federal judiciary has the judges it needs to provide justice to Americans in courts throughout the country.  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.   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.   I hope that we will follow their advice and make progress to ensure that the Federal courts are able to function for all Americans. 

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