10.31.13

Senate Panel Approves Nomination To D.C. Circuit

. . . Wilkins Would Fill Third Vacancy On Court; Two Leahy-Authored Bills Also Approved

WASHINGTON (Thursday, October 31, 2013) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday continued its work of processing judicial vacancies by approving the nomination of Robert Wilkins to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Wilkins would fill one of three vacancies on the 11-seat court.

The Committee’s approval of Judge Wilkins’s nomination comes as the full Senate is poised to consider another nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Patricia Millett. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the Senate must confirm these highly-qualified nominees to the court.

“Later today the Senate will vote on whether to end a filibuster against another nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Patricia Millett.  In the course of that debate, I have heard Republicans argue that the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges,” Leahy said.  “History shows that these Republican arguments have nothing to do with caseload and everything to do with the party of the president.”

Judge Wilkins currently serves on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, a position to which he was confirmed in 2010 on a voice vote. He appeared before the Judiciary Committee in September for his confirmation hearing. Five district court nominees were also approved on Thursday, including four who would fill vacancies deemed judicial emergencies.

The Judiciary Committee also approved two Leahy-authored bills with bipartisan support. The Justice For All Act, which is cosponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), takes important steps to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system, by protecting victims’ rights, reducing the backlog of untested rape kits, encouraging DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, and improving representation for indigent defendants. The Judiciary Committee approved a similar measure last year, and the measure considered Thursday was approved on a voice vote after the Committee unanimously adopted two bipartisan amendments.

The Committee also approved the Leahy-Grassley Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act, a bill that ensures that employees who report criminal antitrust violations to the Department of Justice are not fired or otherwise retaliated against by their employers. Whistleblower protection for these employees was recommended by the Government Accountability Office in a July 2011 report, and the protections in this bill are modeled after existing whistleblower protections contained in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Leahy’s full statement on the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act can be found online.

Results and a webcast of Thursday’s executive business meeting can be found online

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Committee On The Judiciary
Executive Business Meeting
October 31, 2013

We have a full agenda this morning. There are ten judicial nominees on our agenda.  I expect we will be able to report out most of them and then turn to two bills that I have introduced with Senator Grassley and with Senator Cornyn. 

The first nominee on our agenda is Judge Robert Wilkins. He is nominated to one of three vacancies on the District of Columbia Circuit and is currently serving on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Less than three years ago, the Senate confirmed him by voice vote.  He has the experience, temperament, and judgment to be an extraordinary judge on the D.C. Circuit.  As a district court judge he has presided over hundreds of cases and issued significant decisions in many areas of the law, including in the fields of administrative and constitutional law.

Prior to serving on the bench, he was a partner for nearly 10 years at Venable, in Washington, D.C.  Judge Wilkins also spent more than 10 years at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. 

Later today the Senate will vote on whether to end a filibuster against another nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Patricia Millett.  In the course of that debate, I have heard Republicans argue that the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges.  History shows that these Republican arguments have nothing to do with caseload and everything to do with the party of the president. 

When President Bush held office, there were no objections to confirming John Roberts to the D.C. Circuit, when the court’s caseload, measured by pending appeals per active judge, was reduced to its lowest level in the past 20 years.  The Senate then confirmed three more of President Bush’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit:  Janice Rogers Brown, Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh.  These nominees filled the tenth, eleventh, and again the tenth seats, and not a single Senate Republican raised any concern about whether those judges were truly needed.  Patricia Millett is nominated to the seat that John Roberts vacated, the ninth seat.  Judge Wilkins is nominated to be the eleventh judge on the court, just as Thomas Griffith was nominated during the Bush administration. 

Now that it is a Democratic president making nominations to those same seats, Senate Republicans have dusted off their old arguments against filling vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. 

Let us give Judge Wilkins the proper respect and consideration that he deserves, based on his outstanding credentials.

This past July, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Wyoming Attorney General Gregory Phillips to the Tenth Circuit.  With his confirmation, the number of pending appeals per active judge on that court dropped from 150 to 135.  The D.C. Circuit currently has 185 pending appeals per active judge.  Despite that higher caseload, some Senate Republicans argue that the D.C. Circuit’s caseload is too low, and that three of its judgeships should be eliminated.  Most of these Senators voted to confirm Attorney General Phillips, even though his confirmation means that the Tenth Circuit now has the lowest caseload in the country.  Earlier this year Senate Republicans supported the confirmation of Jane Kelly to the Eighth Circuit, which gave that court the lowest caseload in the country at the time.  I hope those Senators will reconsider their double-standard and not play politics with an independent branch of government. 

After voting to report the judicial nominees on our agenda, we will turn to the bipartisan Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act.  I thank the Ranking Member for working with me on this legislation.  And if we can keep a quorum, I hope we can report the Justice for All Reauthorization Act.  I thank Senator Cornyn for working with me on this important criminal justice initiative. 

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