Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy Criticizes Unprecedented Partisan Obstruction Of Consensus District Court Picks

[WASHINGTON (Thursday, September 20, 2012) – Senate Republicans objected today to approving the 17 district court nominees who have been pending on the Senate calendar since as far back as April, including those who enjoy the support of their home state Republican Senators. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has repeatedly called for the Senate to clear the backlog of nominations, and criticized the partisan obstruction of consensus picks today.] 


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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On Unanimous Consent Requests for Votes on District Court Nominations

September 20, 2012

Today the Majority Leader was required to take the extraordinary step of asking for unanimous consent to secure Senate confirmation votes for 17 district court nominations.  Before the American people elected Barack Obama as our President, district court nominees were generally confirmed within a couple of weeks of being reported by the Judiciary Committee. 

This was true of those nominated by Republican Presidents and Democratic Presidents.  Deference was traditionally afforded to home state Senators and district court nominees supported by home state Senators were almost always confirmed unanimously. 

However, Senate Republicans have raised the level of partisanship so that these Federal trial court nominees have now become wrapped around the axle of partisanship.  Despite a vacancy crisis that threatens the ability of Federal courts to provide justice for the American people, Senate Republicans now refuse to allow a vote on any of the 17 pending district court nominees, including 12 that have been declared judicial emergency vacancies. 

Senate Republicans’ across the board obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees that began with their filibuster of his very first nominee continues.  For the first time I can recall even  district court nominees with support from Republican home state Senators face months of delay if not outright opposition from the Senate Republican leadership and Senate Republicans. 

The long delays and backlog we are seeing on the Federal trial courts and Senate Republicans’ refusal to vote on so many consensus judicial nominees before we recess for the upcoming Presidential election are entirely without precedent.  The Thurmond Rule has never been applied to stop votes on consensus district court nominees. 

In September 2008 we reported and confirmed 10 of President Bush’s district court nominees and left none on the Senate Calendar as we headed into that Presidential election. 

In contrast, this year we are still waiting on votes for district court nominees reported by the Judiciary Committee in April, June, July and August.  All but one of these 17 district court nominees was reported with significant bipartisan support, all but three nearly unanimously.

The partisan refusal to allow votes on consensus nominees has become standard operating procedure for Senate Republicans.  In each of the last two years, Senate Republicans refused to follow the Senate’s traditional practice of clearing the calendar of noncontroversial nominees. 

As a result, there were 19 judicial nominees pending without a final confirmation vote at the end of 2010 and another 19 left without a vote at the end of 2011.  Due to this latest refusal to consent to vote, Senate Republicans are ensuring that the Senate will recess for the election without voting on 21 judicial nominees ready for final Senate action. 

The result is that for the first time in decades Federal courts are likely to have more vacancies at the end of these four years than at the beginning of the President’s term.  Federal judicial vacancies have been at historically high levels for years, remaining near or above 80 for nearly the entire first term of the President.  Judicial vacancies today are more than two and one half times as high as they were at this point in President Bush’s first term, with nearly one out of every 11 Federal judgeships currently vacant. 

I urge Senator Toomey, Senator Kirk, Senator Rubio, Senator Coburn, Senator Inhofe, Senator Hatch, Senator Lee, Senator Collins and Senator Snowe, all of whom have judicial nominees on the calendar ready for a final Senate vote, to reason with their leadership about this obstruction.  I ask other Republican Senators who know better to weigh in with their leadership.  This is wrong for the country, damaging to the Federal courts and harmful for the American people looking to our courts for justice.

I ask consent to include in the Record at the conclusion of my statement a column by Russell Wheeler entitled “The Case for Confirming District Court Judges” that appeared in Politico on Wednesday and notes the unprecedented and destructive nature of this obstruction. 

I have served in the Senate for 37 years, and I have never seen so many judicial nominees, reported with bipartisan support, be denied a simple up-or-down vote for four months, five months, six months, even 11 months.  And if there was any doubt that Senate Republicans insist on being the party of “no”, their current decision to deny votes on these highly-qualified,  noncontroversial district court nominees – while we are in the middle of a judicial vacancy crisis – shows what they stand for.  They care more about opposing this President than helping the American people.

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