01.20.10

Senate Unanimously Confirms Circuit Court Nominee

WASHINGTON – The Senate convened for the second session of the 111th Congress and quickly confirmed the nomination of Beverly Martin to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday.  The nomination, which has been pending before the full Senate for more than four months, was confirmed by a unanimous vote of 97-0.

In a statement on the Senate floor prior to the vote, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed his regret for the delays in considering judicial nominations.

“The delays for consideration of the nomination of Judge Martin, along with delays for seven other judicial nominations currently on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, are the result of a Republican strategy to stall, delay and obstruct that began last year,” said Leahy.  “I urge the Senate Republican leadership to join with us and with President Obama to fill the more than 100 vacancies that have now accumulated on our Federal courts around the country.”

Martin is just the fourth circuit court nomination confirmed by the Senate this Congress.  The Senate last year confirmed just 12 circuit and district court nominations, the fewest judicial nominations in more than 50 years.  There are now more than 100 vacancies on federal benches across the country, and more than 20 future vacancies have been announced.

Seven judicial nominations remain pending on the Senate’s executive calendar, and the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider three circuit court nominees during an executive business meeting on Thursday.  Later today, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to consider pending nominations, including four district court nominees.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Nomination Of Beverly Martin To The Eleventh Circuit
January 20, 2010

As Prepared

As we return for the second session of the 111th Congress, the Senate at last considers the long-stalled nomination of Judge Beverly Martin of Georgia to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Even though Judge Martin is a well-respected district court judge with the strong support of both of her home state Republican Senators, Senator Chambliss and Senator Isakson, her nomination has been stuck on the Senate Executive Calendar for over four months, since it was promptly reported by the Judiciary Committee without a single dissenting vote.  

The delays for consideration of the nomination of Judge Martin, along with delays for seven other judicial nominations currently on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, are the result of a Republican strategy to stall, delay and obstruct that began last year.  I urge the Senate Republican leadership to reconsider their strategy and instead join with us and with President Obama to fill the more than 100 vacancies that have now accumulated on our Federal courts around the country.

The obstructionist tactics that we saw last year from Republicans led to the lowest number of judicial confirmations in more than 50 years.  Only 12 of President Obama’s judicial nominations to Federal circuit and district courts were confirmed all last year.   The 12 Federal circuit and district court nominees confirmed last year was less than half of what we achieved during President Bush’s first tumultuous year.  In the second half of 2001, a Democratic Senate majority proceeded to confirm 28 judges.  In the 17 months that I chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during President Bush’s first term, the Senate confirmed 100 of his judicial nominees.

Republicans have refused to agree to the consideration of qualified, noncontroversial nominees for weeks and months.  Last December, only three of the available 13 judicial nominations on the Senate Executive Calendar were considered.  By contrast, in December 2001, the first year of President Bush’s administration, Senate Democrats proceeded to confirm 10 of his judicial nominees.  At the end of the Senate’s 2001 session, only four judicial nominations were left on the Senate Executive Calendar, all of which were confirmed soon after the Senate returned in 2002.  At the end of President Clinton’s first year, just one judicial nominee was left on the Senate Executive Calendar.  At the end of President George H.W. Bush’s first year, a Democratic Senate Majority left just two judicial nominations pending on the Senate Executive Calendar.  At the end of the first year of President Reagan’s first term—a year in which the Senate confirmed 41 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees—not a single judicial nomination was left on the Senate Executive Calendar.  This past December, Senate Republicans left 10 judicial nominees without Senate action, and insisted on returning two of them to the President so that they would have to be renominated.  

None of the eight judicial nominations currently pending on the Executive Calendar are controversial.  Six were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee without a single dissenting vote.  We have wasted weeks and months having to seek time agreements in order to consider nominations that were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and then confirmed unanimously by the Senate once they were finally allowed to be considered.

Judicial vacancies have now skyrocketed to over 100, undoing years of hard work.  The lack of Senate action last year is attributable to Senate Republicans and no one else.  President Obama has reached across the aisle to consult with Republican Senators.  The nomination before the Senate today is another example of that.  He has made quality nominations.  While President Obama has moved beyond the judicial nominations battles of the past and reached out the work with Republicans and make mainstream nominations, Senate Republicans continue their tactics of delay.   

When President Bush worked with Senators across the aisle, I praised him and expedited consideration of his nominees.  When President Obama reaches across the aisle, the Senate Republican leadership delays and obstructs his qualified nominees.  The Republican leadership has returned to their practices in the 1990s, which resulted in more than doubling circuit court vacancies, and led to the pocket filibuster of more than 60 of President Clinton's nominees.  The crisis they created eventually led even to public criticism of their actions by Chief Justice Rehnquist during those years.  

Instead of praising President Obama for consulting with Republican Senators, the Senate Republican leadership has doubled back on what they demanded when a Republican President was in the White House.  No more do they talk about each nominee being entitled to an up-or-down vote.  That position is abandoned and forgotten.  Instead, they now seek to filibuster and delay judicial and even executive nominations.  They have also abandoned their initial position at the start of this Congress that they would filibuster judicial nominees on which home state Senators were not consulted.  It turned out such consultation and home state Republican Senator support did not matter when they unsuccessfully filibustered President Obama’s first judicial nominee, Judge David Hamilton.  He was filibustered despite the support of Senator Lugar, his home state Senator and the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

Despite the fact that President Obama began sending judicial nominees to the Senate two months earlier than President Bush, last year’s total was the fewest judicial nominees confirmed in his first year of a Presidency since 1953, a year in which President Eisenhower only made nine nominations all of which were confirmed.  The number of confirmations was even below the 17 the Senate Republican majority allowed confirmation in the 1996 session. 

This is wrong.  The American people deserve better. The cost will be felt by ordinary Americans seeking justice in our overburdened Federal courts.  

During President Bush’s last year in office, we had reduced judicial vacancies to as low as 34, even though it was a presidential election year.  When President Bush left office, we had reduced vacancies in nine of the 13 Federal circuits.  As matters stand today, judicial vacancies have spiked and are being left unfilled.  We started 2010 with the highest number of vacancies on Article III courts since 1994, when the vacancies created by the last comprehensive judgeship bill were still being filled.  While it has been nearly 20 years since we enacted a Federal judgeship bill, judicial vacancies are nearing record levels, with 102 current vacancies and another 21 already announced.  If we had proceeded on the judgeship bill recommended by the Judicial Conference to address the growing burden on our Federal judiciary, as we did in 1984 and 1990, in order to provide the resources the courts need, current vacancies would stand over 160 today.  That is the true measure of how far behind we have fallen.  Justice should not be delayed or denied to any American because of overburdened courts and the lack of Federal judges.  

We have seen this unprecedented obstruction by Senate Republicans on issue after issue—over 100 filibusters last year alone, which has affected 70 percent of all Senate action.  Instead of time agreements and the will of the majority, the Senate is faced with a requirement to find 60 Senators to overcome a filibuster on issue after issue.  Those who just a short time ago said that a majority vote is all that should be needed to confirm a nomination, and that filibusters of nominations are unconstitutional, have reversed themselves and now employ any delaying tactic they can.    

These obstruction tactics took dangerous lows last year when Senate Republicans voted to leave our troops without funding at a time when we are fighting two wars.  Had the Senate Republican filibuster of the Defense Department Appropriations bill been successful, they would have cut off funding for our troops in the field.   Senate Republicans also filibustered the Veterans bill.   

Judge Martin’s nomination is the longest-pending of the judicial nominees currently on the Executive Calendar.  Judge Martin is a well-respected Federal district court judge.  Her nomination received a unanimous rating of “well qualified” from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and has the support of both Republican home state Senators, Senator Chambliss and Senator Isakson.  Judge Martin has spent 25 years in public service as a Federal judge, as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in that office, and as an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia. Judge Martin’s nomination should have been an easy one to have confirmed months ago.  Republicans should have thanked President Obama for consulting with the home state Republican Senators and moved forward.   I wish we could have reached a time agreement sooner.  It should not have taken four months.    

I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their strategy and allow prompt consideration of the other judicial nominees awaiting Senate consideration: Judge Joseph Greenaway of New Jersey, nominated to the Third Circuit; Justice Barbara Keenan of Virginia, nominated to the Fourth Circuit; Jane Stranch of Tennessee, nominated to the Sixth Circuit; Judge Thomas Vanaskie of Pennsylvania, nominated to the Third Circuit; Judge Denny Chin of New York, nominated to the Second Circuit; Rosanna Malouf Peterson, nominated to the Eastern District of Washington; and William Conley, nominated to the Western District of Wisconsin.  

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