02.07.11

Senate Unanimously Confirms First Judicial Nominations Of 112th Congress

WASHINGTON (Monday, Feb. 7, 2011) – The Senate Monday night completed final action on three long-pending judicial nominations.  All three nominations garnered the unanimous support of the Senate, and will fill seats designated as judicial emergencies.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised the Senate’s action on the nominations, which were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 3.

“I am hopeful that our actions today signal a return to regular order in the consideration of nominations without unexplained and damaging delays,” said Leahy.  “I am hopeful that this signals a return to cooperation to confront a judicial vacancies crisis that has put at serious risk the ability of all Americans to find equal access to a fair hearing in court.”

The nominees confirmed were Diana Saldana to the Southern District of Texas, Paul K. Holmes to the Western District of Arkansas, and Judge Marco Hernandez to the District of Oregon.  All three were first reported by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous support in December 2010, but objections to schedule final votes on the nominations prevented confirmation before the 111th Congress adjourned.  On Feb. 3, the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a total of 11 judicial nominations, each of which were first considered and reported by the Committee last year.

“All three branches of the federal government come together when the Senate considers a President’s nomination to a lifetime appointment on the federal bench,” Leahy said.  “The Senate has a constitutional duty to act responsibly to consider the President’s nominees and to confirm members of the judiciary.  Most importantly, the Senate has a responsibility to the American people to help ensure that Federal judges are there to protect their rights and administer justice.    

For information about pending judicial and executive nominations, visit the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On Judicial Nominations
February 7, 2011

Today, the Senate will consider, and I anticipate confirm, three of President Obama’s nominations to fill judicial vacancies on Federal district courts in Arkansas, Oregon and Texas.  All three of the nominations -- P.K. Holmes to the Western District of Arkansas, Judge Diana Saldana to the Southern District of Texas, and Judge Marco Hernandez to the District of Oregon -- will fill judicial emergency vacancies. Given the serious need on those courts, and the qualifications of these nominees, there is no reason they could not have been confirmed when they were nominated and reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last Congress.  There is every reason for the Senate to act promptly now that President Obama has re-nominated them, the Judiciary Committee has reconsidered them, and they have again been reported to the Senate unanimously.

I am hopeful that our actions today signal a return to regular order in the consideration of nominations without unexplained and damaging delays.  I am hopeful that this signals a return to cooperation to confront a judicial vacancies crisis that has put at serious risk the ability of all Americans to find equal access to a fair hearing in court.  Chief Justice Roberts commented on this in his most recent statement on the judiciary.  The White House counsel recently spoke to the crisis.  The President wrote us last year urging action. The real costs of these unnecessary partisan delays fall on Americans who depend on the courts.  Last September, President Obama wrote that these delays in Senate consideration of judicial nominees are “undermining the ability of our courts to deliver justice to those in need . . . from working mothers seeking timely compensation for their employment discrimination claims to communities hoping for swift punishment for perpetrators of crimes to small business owners seeking protection from unfair and anticompetitive practices.”  The President was, and still is, right.

The Attorney General warned us last year that “the system on which we all depend for a prompt and fair hearing of our cases when we need to call on the law -- is stressed to the breaking point.”  The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, a group of career Federal prosecutors likewise wrote to us, stating that, “Our federal courts cannot function effectively when judicial vacancies restrain the ability to render swift and sure justice.” 

As we consider these nominations today, there are still more than 100 vacancies in the Federal judiciary.  Unlike the progress we made during President Bush’s first two years in office when the Senate confirmed 100 judges and sharply reduced judicial vacancies, during the first two years of President Obama’s term, we were only allowed to consider 60 judicial nominations.  Despite vacancies for nearly one out of every eight Federal judgeships, last year the Senate adjourned without voting on 19 judicial nominations favorably reported by the Judiciary Committee.  The three judges we will confirm today were among those 19.  They could and should have been confirmed last year.

The Senate must do better.  We can consider and confirm this President’s nominations to the Federal bench in a timely manner.  This President has reached across the aisle to work with home state Republican Senators.  His nominees, like the nominees from Texas and Arkansas before us today, are supported by their home state Republican Senators.  They are not controversial.  They tend to be superbly qualified nominees with a strong commitment to the rule of law and a demonstrated faithfulness to the Constitution.  The three nominees before us today, the 11 judicial nominees voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously last week, and the four other judicial nominations that will be considered on February 17 are all nominees who were nominated last Congress and considered and approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support. 

With judicial vacancies now at 104, nearly half of them judicial emergency vacancies, the Nation cannot afford further delays by the Senate in taking action on the nominations pending before it. Judicial vacancies on courts throughout the country hinder the Federal judiciary’s ability to fulfill its constitutional role.  They create a backlog of cases that prevents people from having their day in court.  This is unacceptable.  In order for the Senate to ensure that the courts are functioning at full capacity, we must restore regular order. 

A return to regular order would mean that nominations sent by the Judiciary Committee to the Senate should be considered expeditiously, not stalled interminably.  Noncontroversial nominations should be taken up and approved on a regular basis.  They should not be stalled for weeks and months for no good reason.   We must return to the Senate’s longstanding practice of quickly considering well-qualified consensus judicial nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee.  Senators should not stall noncontroversial nominees. We should not have months and months of damaging delays for no good reason on virtually every judicial nomination.

If Senators want to debate a nomination, we should have one.  But then we should vote.  Nominations that do have opposition should be taken up on a regular basis for debate, with cloture votes if necessary, so that all nominations can be acted upon in a reasonable amount of time.  The Senate must move beyond the petty partisanship that has resulted in this vacancy crisis

I thank Senator Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s new Ranking Member, for his cooperation in helping us to report 11 of the previously reported judicial nominations last week, and for working with me to schedule our first confirmation hearing of the new Congress.  I look forward to continuing to work with him, with Majority leader Reid and with Republican Leader McConnell to schedule votes on the many other nominees reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee so that we can ensure that the Federal judiciary has the judges and resources it needs to provide justice to Americans in courts throughout the country. 

When I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during 17 months of President Bush’s first two years in office with a Democratic majority, we favorably reported 100 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  All 100 were confirmed.  I continued to work hard to make progress considering President Bush’s circuit and district court nominations as Ranking Member during the President Bush’s third and fourth years in office when Senator Hatch was the Committee chairman, and the Senate confirmed another 105.  That should be our benchmark.  By the end of this Congress, we should consider and confirm 205 Federal judges, just as we did during President Bush’s first term.  That is how we can reduce vacancies from the historically high levels at which they have remained throughout these first two years of the Obama administration to the historically low level we reached toward the end of the Bush administration.  With the three confirmations today our total will stand at 63.  

Overall, judicial vacancies were reduced during the Bush administration from more than 10 percent to less than four percent.  During the Bush administration, the Federal court vacancies were reduced from 110 to 34 and Federal circuit court vacancies were reduced from a high of 32 down to single digits.  Regrettably, this progress has not continued with a Democratic President in office.  Instead, the minority has allowed votes on only 60 of President Obama’s Federal circuit and district court nominees, judicial vacancies have skyrocketed and remain over 100 and over 10 percent. 

Today the Senate considers three of President Obama’s qualified nominees.  President Obama nominated Paul K. Holmes, III, last April to fill an emergency vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.  Mr. Holmes is currently Of Counsel at the Fort Smith, Arkansas, law firm where he formerly worked for more than two decades as an associate and a partner.  Previously, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.  As U.S. Attorney, Holmes served for two years on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.   Mr. Holmes earned the highest possible rating—unanimously well qualified—from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, and his nomination has now garnered the support of three Arkansas Senators, Senators Pryor and Lincoln last Congress, and also Senator Boozman.  I thank the Senators from Arkansas for working with us. I am pleased that Mr. Holmes will be confirmed without further delay.

President Obama nominated Diana Saldana last July to fill an emergency vacancy in the Southern District of Texas, the district she has served as a Magistrate Judge since 2006.  Before taking the bench, Judge Saldana served the Southern District for five years as a Federal prosecutor, and she previously was a lawyer in private practice and a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  The child of migrant farm workers, Judge Saldana began working alongside her family in the sugar beet fields at age 10, and she continued to do so for more than a decade.  After graduating from law school, she served as a law clerk to then-Chief Judge George P. Kazen.  If confirmed, Judge Saldana will fill the vacancy created by Judge Kazen’s retirement.  Judge Saldana earned the highest possible rating—unanimously well qualified—from the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.  She has the support of her two Republican home state Senators.  Senator Cornyn called her “one of the toughest law enforcers in South Texas,” and Senator Hutchison added that Judge Saldana “has some of the finest qualities we expect in our judges.”  Her nomination has twice been reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee.  I am pleased she will be confirmed without further delay.

Marco A. Hernandez was nominated last July to fill an emergency vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.  He has served as a state judge in Oregon for the last 15 years, first on the district court and now as a circuit court judge.  Previously, Judge Hernandez was a deputy district attorney in Washington County, Oregon and a lawyer for Oregon Legal Services.  Judge Hernandez has the support of his two home state Senators, and he has now been nominated to this position by Presidents of both parties.  If confirmed, he will become the first Latino to serve as a Federal Judge in Oregon. His nomination was reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last Congress and again this Congress.  It was ironic that after Senator Sessions made quite a fuss that Judge Hernandez had not been considered and confirmed when nominated at the very end of the Bush administration, the Senator then proceeded to delay Committee consideration of his nomination last year and then Republican objections prevented Senate action last year. I thank Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for their consistent support for Judge Hernandez’ nomination and am pleased that he will confirmed without further delay.   

I have often said that the 100 of us in the Senate stand in the shoes of over 300 million Americans.  We owe it to them to do our constitutional duty of voting on the President’s nominations to be Federal judges.  We owe it to them to make sure that hard-working Americans are able to have their cases heard in our Federal courts. 

All three branches of the Federal Government come together when the Senate considers a President’s nomination to a lifetime appointment on the Federal bench.  The Senate has a constitutional duty to act responsibly to consider the President’s nominees and to confirm members of the Judiciary.  Most importantly, the Senate has a responsibility to the American people to help ensure that Federal judges are there to protect their rights and administer justice.    

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