Senate Republicans Setting Dangerous New Precedent For Nominations In Lame Duck Session
WASHINGTON –The Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm Michael Shea, a district court nominee from Connecticut who has been waiting on the Senate calendar since April. Seventeen additional circuit and district court nominees are still pending on the calendar, and despite broad bipartisan support for most, Republicans continue to break Senate tradition and obstruct.
“Senate Republicans are establishing another harmful precedent by refusing to proceed on judicial nominees with bipartisan support before the end of this session,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a floor statement. “They have found a new way to employ their old trick of a pocket filibuster. They stall nominees into the next year and force the Senate to continue work on nominees from the past year for the first several months of the new year.”
The continued slow pace of judicial confirmations is unprecedented. In every lame duck session of a presidential election year since 1980, the Senate has moved to confirm pending judicial nominees who enjoyed bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. With their continued obstruction, Republicans are on track to break this bipartisan tradition.
“Those across the aisle who contend that judicial confirmation votes during lame duck sessions do not take place are wrong,” Leahy said. “It is past time for votes on the four circuit nominees and the other 13 district court nominees still pending on the Executive Calendar. Let us do our jobs so that all Americans can have access to justice.”
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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Confirmation of Michael Shea to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
December 5, 2012
The Senate is finally being allowed to vote today on the nomination of Michael Shea to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. It has taken far too long for this day to come but I congratulate him and his family on his confirmation and the Senators from Connecticut on finally getting to this vote.
Michael Shea is another nominee whose nomination was stalled for months for no good reason. The Judiciary Committee gave his nomination strong bipartisan support—more than seven months ago. He has the support of his home state Senators. He has significant litigation experience. A graduate of Yale Law School, he clerked for the conservative Judge James Buckley on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit following graduation. So why did it take more than seven months for the Senate to briefly debate and vote on this nomination? Republican obstruction.
After this vote the Senate remains backlogged with 17 judicial nominations from before the August recess. Senate Republicans are establishing another harmful precedent by refusing to proceed on judicial nominees with bipartisan support before the end of this session. They held up judicial nominees three years ago, they did it two years ago, they did it last year, and they are doing it, again. They have found a new way to employ their old trick of a pocket filibuster. They stall nominees into the next year and force the Senate to continue work on nominees from the past year for the first several months of the new year. They delay and delay and push other confirmations back in time and then cut off Senate consideration of any nominees. How else does anyone explain the Republican Senate opposition to William Kayatta of Maine, who is supported by Senator Snowe and Senator Collins, the two Republican Senators from Maine? How else to explain the Republican filibuster and continuing opposition to Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, who appears to have the support of Senator Inhofe and Senator Coburn the two Republican Senators from Oklahoma? How else to explain their adamant refusal to consider the nomination of Richard Taranto to the Federal Circuit, who was voted out of the Judiciary Committee virtually unanimously with seven Republican Senators in favor and Senator Lee casting a protest vote on another issue?
These delays in filling judicial vacancies are harmful to our Nation’s courts and to the American people they serve. The Senate should be taking action on all the pending nominees so that we could make real progress for the American people and reduce the damagingly high number of judicial vacancies. Federal judicial vacancies remain above 80. By this point in President Bush’s first term we had reduced judicial vacancies to 29.
There were more than 80 vacancies when the year began. There were more than 80 vacancies this past March when the Majority Leader was forced to take the extraordinary step of filing cloture petitions on 17 district court nominations. And there will still be at least 80 vacancies after today. The Senate should be voting this year before we adjourn on at least the additional 17 pending nominations that should have been confirmed before the August recess.
From 1980 until this year, when a lame duck session followed a presidential election, every single judicial nominee reported with bipartisan Judiciary Committee support has been confirmed. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, no consensus nominee reported prior to the August recess has ever been denied a vote – before now. That is something Senate Democrats have not done in any lame duck session, whether after a presidential or midterm election.
Senate Democrats allowed votes on 20 of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, including three circuit court nominees, in the lame duck session after the elections in 2002. I remember, I was the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee who moved forward with those votes, including one on a very controversial circuit court nominee. The Senate proceeded to confirm judicial nominees in lame duck sessions after the elections in 2004 and 2006. In 2006 that included confirming another circuit court nominee. We proceeded to confirm 19 judicial nominees in the lame duck session after the elections in 2010, including five circuit court nominees. The reason that I am not listing confirmations for the lame duck session at the end of 2008 is because that year we had proceeded to confirm the last 10 judicial nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee in September and long before the lame duck session.
That is our history and recent precedent. Those across the aisle who contend that judicial confirmation votes during lame duck sessions do not take place are wrong. It is past time for votes on the four circuit nominees and the other 13 district court nominees still pending on the Executive Calendar. Let us do our jobs so that all Americans can have access to justice.
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David Carle: 202-224-3693
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