04.26.12

Senate Confirms Two To District Courts In Texas; Leahy Statement

WASHINGTON (Thursday, April 26, 2012) – The U.S. Senate Thursday confirmed two long-pending nominations to fill vacancies on district court benches in Texas.  Both nominations were reported to the full Senate by the Judiciary Committee in December, each with unanimous support.

Last month, Senate leadership reached an agreement to consider a number of pending judicial nominations, including the nominations confirmed Thursday.  Just three nominations covered by that agreement remain to be confirmed; however, another 21 judicial nominations await a final vote.

Judicial vacancies across the country continue to number around 80.  In contrast, at the same point in the Bush administration, vacancies had been reduced to 45.

 

To make real progress, the Senate needs to proceed to consideration of the 24 judicial nominations currently before the Senate awaiting a final vote and the others working their way through the Committee process,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  “The ten of those nominations that have been pending the longest are all to fill judicial emergency vacancies that should have been filled long ago.”

The full text of Leahy’s statement on the confirmations of Gregg Costa to the Southern District of Texas and David Guaderrama to the Western District of Texas follows.

 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Nominations Of Gregg Costa And David Guaderrama

April 26, 2012

Today, the Senate will finally vote on the nominations of Gregg Costa and David Guaderrama to fill judicial emergency vacancies in the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.  Both of these nominees to fill judicial emergency vacancies have the support of their home state Republican Senators.  Their nominations were reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee over four and one-half months ago.  Senator Cornyn, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, strongly supports both of these nominees.  The senior Senator from Texas, Senator Hutchison supports these nominees.  There was a unanimous vote in the Judiciary Committee.  Still, it has taken another four and one-half months to get them before the Senate for final consideration. 

These are more examples of what I have been concerned about for the last few years.  Senate Republicans simply refuse to move promptly to confirm consensus nominees.  These are not ideologically driven nominees.  These are nominees, like so many who President Obama has nominated, who are qualified and enjoy bipartisan support, but who are made to wait and wait before finally being allowed to be confirmed.  That is a destructive development and new practice that Senate Republicans have adopted for this President’s nominees.  It has contributed to keeping the Senate behind the curve, keeping Federal judicial vacancies unfilled, overburdening the Federal courts, and keeping Americans from securing prompt justice.

It should not have taken this long for these two nominees to receive a vote.  They could and should have been confirmed last year.  It is nearly May, and the Senate is still only considering judicial nominations that should have been confirmed last year.  There are 24 judicial nominees ready for final Senate consideration.  Several are still pending from last year.  That means 150 million Americans affected by more than 80 judicial vacancies would see a vacancy in their district or circuit court filled if the Senate would only be allowed to vote on those 24 nominees.

The lack of real progress during the last three and one-third years is in stark contrast to the way in which we moved to reduce judicial vacancies during the last Republican presidency.  During President Bush’s first term we reduced the number of judicial vacancies by almost 75 percent.  When I became Chairman in the summer of 2001, there were 110 vacancies.  As Chairman, I worked with Senate Republicans to confirm 100 judicial nominees of a conservative Republican President in 17 months.  We expedited consideration of consensus nominees and ended the vacancies crisis.  In contrast, despite his selecting qualified nominees and working with Senators from both sides of the aisle, President Obama has seen judicial vacancies remain above 80 for nearly three years.

At this same point in the Bush administration, we had reduced judicial vacancies around the country to 45.  Today they stand at 81.  And by August 2004, we reduced judicial vacancies to just 28 vacancies.  Despite 2004 being an election year, we were able to reduce vacancies to the lowest level in the last 20 years.  At a time of great turmoil and political confrontation, despite the attack on 9/11, the anthrax letters shutting down Senate offices, and the ideologically driven judicial selections of President Bush, we worked together to promptly confirm consensus nominees and significantly reduce judicial vacancies.

In October 2008, another presidential election year, we again worked to reduce judicial vacancies and were able to get back down to 34 vacancies.  I accommodated Senate Republicans and continued holding expedited hearings and votes on judicial nominations into September 2008. 

We lowered vacancy rates more than twice as quickly as Senate Republicans have allowed during President Obama first term.  The vacancy rate remains nearly twice what it was at this point in the first term of President Bush. 

The Senate is 32 behind the number of circuit and district court confirmations at this point in President Bush’s fourth year in office.  We are 65 confirmations from the total of 205 that we reached by the end of President Bush’s fourth year.

I wanted to share with the Senate and the American people a chart comparing vacancies during the terms of President Bush and President Obama.  This is another way to demonstrate what I have been saying.  See how sharply the line slopes as we reduced vacancies in 2001 and 2002, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  See where we were in April 2004 having reduced judicial vacancies to 45 on the way to 28 in August.  By comparison, see how long vacancies have remained above 80 and how little comparative progress we have made.  Again, if we would just be allowed to vote on the 24 judicial nominees ready for final action we could reduce vacancies to less than 60 and make instant progress. 

The American people deserve better.  Our courts need qualified Federal judges, not vacancies, if they are to reduce the excessive wait times that burden litigants seeking their day in court.  It is unacceptable for hardworking Americans who turn to their courts for justice to suffer unnecessary delays.  When an injured plaintiff sues to help cover the cost of his or her medical expenses, that plaintiff should not have to wait three years before a judge hears the case.  When two small business owners disagree over a contract, they should not have to wait years for a court to resolve their dispute.

Some Senate Republicans seek to divert attention by suggesting that these longstanding vacancies are the President’s fault for not sending us nominees.  Let me remind my colleagues that of the 81 current vacancies that exist, several of them are without a nomination because this President is trying to work with home state Senators, including 27 vacancies involving a Republican home state Senator who has refused to either recommend a candidate or agree to a judicial nominee.  There are seven nominations on which the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot proceed because Republican Senators have not returned blue slips.

More importantly, there are 24 outstanding judicial nominees that can be confirmed right now who are being stalled.  Let us act on them.  Let us vote them up or down.  When my grandchildren say they want more food before they finish what is on their plate, my answer is to urge them to finish the food already on their plate before asking for seconds or dessert.  To those Republicans that contend it is the White House’s fault for not sending us more nominees, I say let us complete Senate action on these 24 judicial nominees ready for final action.  If we could vote on the 24 judicial nominees ready for final action there are more nominees working their way through Committee, and the Senate can act responsibly to help fill more of the vacancies plaguing some of our busiest courts.

Today, we can finally fill two emergency vacancies with superbly qualified nominees.  Gregg Costa is nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where he is already well-known and well-respected for his service as a Federal prosecutor.  Prior to becoming a Federal prosecutor in 2005, Mr. Costa worked in private practice in Houston, Texas, was a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General, and clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the United States Supreme Court.  The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Mr. Costa “well qualified” to serve, its highest possible rating. 

Judge David Guaderrama is nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, where he has served as a Magistrate Judge since 2010.  He previously served four terms as a state court judge in El Paso, Texas, and for seven years as the Chief Public Defender in El Paso County.  While on the state bench, Judge Guaderrama implemented the first adult criminal Drug Court and the first Access to Recovery program in El Paso County.  Judge Guaderrama began his legal career in 1979 as a solo practitioner and from 1980 to 1986 was a partner with the firm of Guaderrama and Guaderrama.

Both of these qualified nominees should have been confirmed before we recessed last December. 

Even consensus, noncontroversial nominees are delayed for no good reason.  To make real progress, the Senate needs to proceed to consideration of the 24 judicial nominations currently before the Senate awaiting a final vote and the others working their way through the Committee process.  The ten of those nominations that have been pending the longest are all to fill judicial emergency vacancies that should have been filled long ago.  Let us work in a bipartisan fashion to confirm these qualified judicial nominees so that we can address the judicial vacancy crisis and so they can serve the American people.  

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