11.03.11

Senate Unanimously Confirms Two District Court Nominations

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011) – The U.S. Senate Thursday afternoon unanimously confirmed two district court nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee nearly two months ago.  Another 20 nominations are pending on the Executive Calendar, and the Judiciary Committee reported an additional five nominations to the full Senate during a business meeting today.

The Senate has been slow to confirm judicial nominations during the Obama administration, with many nominations reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee languishing for months on the Executive Calendar before ultimately securing confirmation by the Senate. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy’s statement on the Senate’s votes Thursday afternoon follows.  Information about pending judicial nominations is available on the Judiciary Committee’s website.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Judicial Nominations
November 3, 2011

I thank the Majority Leader for securing votes on two of the 22 judicial nominees on the Senate’s Executive Calendar ready for Senate consideration.  I am glad that we will finally vote on the nominations of Scott Skavdahl to the District of Wyoming and Richard Andrews to the District of Delaware, both qualified, consensus nominees reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee nearly two months ago.  I wish that we were able to vote today on the other 20 judicial nominees that have been ready and waiting for final Senate action. 

This morning the Judiciary Committee reported another five judicial nominations, bringing the total to 27 that have been thoroughly vetted, considered and reported by the Judiciary Committee.  All 27 of these nominees are qualified, and have the support of their home state Senators, Republican and Democratic.  Twenty-three of the 27 nominees, like the two we will consider today, were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee with all members.  Senate Democrats are prepared to have votes on all these important nominations.  I know of no good reason why the Republican leadership is refusing to proceed on the 20 nominees that have been stalled before the Senate for weeks and months.  At a time when vacancies on Federal courts throughout the country remain near 10 percent, the delay in taking up and confirming these consensus judicial nominees is inexcusable. 

The American people need functioning Federal courts with judges, not vacancies.  Though it is within the Senate’s power to take significant steps to address this problem, refusal by Senate Republicans to consent to voting on consensus judicial nominations has kept vacancies high for years.  The number of judicial vacancies has been near or above 90 for over two and one half years.  A recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that we are in the longest period of historically high vacancy rates in the last 35 years.  These needless delays do nothing to help solve this serious problem and are damaging to the Federal courts and the American people who depend on them. 

More than half of all Americans—over 163 million—live in districts or circuits that have a judicial vacancy that could be filled today if Senate Republicans just agreed to vote on the nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support.  As many as 26 states are served by Federal courts with vacancies that would be filled by these nominations.  Millions of Americans across the country are harmed by delays in overburdened courts.  The Republican leadership should explain why they will not consent to vote on the qualified, consensus candidates nominated to fill these extended judicial vacancies.

Senator Grassley and I have worked together to ensure that each of the 27 nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee was fully considered after a thorough but fair process, including completing our extensive questionnaire and questioning at a hearing.  This White House has worked with the home state Senators, Republicans and Democrats, and each of the judicial nominees being delayed from a Senate vote is supported by both home state Senators.  The FBI has conducted a thorough background review of each nominee.  The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has conducted a peer review of their professional qualifications.   When the nominations are then reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, there is no reason for months and months of further delay before they begin serving the American people.   

Despite the damagingly high number of vacancies that has persisted throughout President Obama’s term, some Republican Senators have tried to excuse their delay in taking up nominations by suggesting that the Senate is doing better than we did during the first three years of President Bush’s administration.  That is simply not true.  It is wrong to suggest that the Senate has achieved better results than we did in 2001 through 2003.  As I have pointed out, in the 17 months I chaired the Judiciary Committee in 2001 and 2002, the Senate confirmed 100 of President Bush’s Federal circuit and district court nominees.  By contrast, after the first two years of President Obama’s administration, the Senate was allowed to proceed to confirm only 60 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees. 

Indeed, as 2010 was drawing to a close, Senate Republicans refused to proceed on 19 judicial nominees that had been considered and reported by the Judiciary Committee and forced them to be returned to the President.  It has taken the Senate nearly twice as long to confirm the 100th Federal circuit and district court judge nominated by President Obama as we had when President Bush was in the White House.

During the third year of President Bush’s administration, the Senate confirmed 68 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  By early November, 66 judges had been confirmed.  In contrast this year, even including many nominees confirmed this year who should have been confirmed last year, the Senate has only confirmed 53 of President Obama’s judicial nominees.  Fifty-three is not better than 66.  By this point in President Bush’s first three years, the Senate had confirmed 166 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  So far in the three years of the Obama administration that total is only 113.   One hundred and thirteen is not better than 166.   Notably, the Senate this year is lagging far behind the pace we set for circuit court nominations in the third year of President Bush’s administration.  The Senate this year has confirmed just six circuit court nominations, compared to 12 at this point in President Bush’s third year.  The six confirmations this year are only half as many as were confirmed at this point in President Bush’s third year.  There are five circuit court nominations pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar today and a sixth circuit court nomination reported by the Committee this morning.  By this point in the third year of President Bush’s administration, the Senate had confirmed a total of 29 of his circuit court nominees.  By comparison, the Senate has confirmed only 22 of President Obama’s circuit court nominees.  Twenty-two is not better than 29. By this point in the Bush administration, vacancies had been reduced to 42.  Today they stand at 85.  Eighty-five vacancies is not better than 42.

This is not the way to make real progress.  No resort to percentages of nominees “processed” or “positive action” by the Committee can excuse the lack of real progress by the Senate.  In the past, we were able to confirm consensus nominees more promptly, often within days of being reported to the full Senate.  They were not forced to languish for months.  The American people should not have to wait weeks and months for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty and ensure the ability of our Federal courts to provide justice to Americans around the country.

I think confirmations and vacancies numbers better reflect the reality in our Federal courts and for the American people.  It is hard to see how the Senate is supposed to be doing better when it remains so far behind the pace we set in those years.  During President Bush’s first four years, the Senate confirmed a total of 205 Federal circuit and district court judges.  As of today, we would need another 92 confirmations over the next 12 months to match that total.  That means a faster confirmation rate for the next 12 months than in any 12 months of the Obama Administration to date.  That would require Senate Republicans to abandon their delaying tactics.  I hope they will.

The two nominations we consider today are each superbly qualified consensus nominees whom I expect will be confirmed with significant bipartisan support.  The nomination of Judge Scott Skavdahl to fill a vacancy on the District of Wyoming was reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee on September 8, nearly two months ago.  Judge Skavdahl, who is currently a magistrate judge on the District of Wyoming, having previously served as a law clerk for Chief Judge William Downes, the judge he is nominated to replace, has the strong support of his Republican home-state senators, Senators Enzi and Barrasso.  Judge Skavdahl spent eight years as a state court judge for the Seventh Judicial District of Wyoming before that working in private practice in Wyoming.  The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Mr. Skavdahl “well qualified” to serve, its highest rating.

The Judiciary Committee also unanimously reported the nomination of Richard Andrews to fill a vacancy on the District of Delaware nearly two months ago.  Mr. Andrews currently serves as Delaware’s State Prosecutor, having previously spent 24 years as a Federal prosecutor in Delaware, where he rose through the ranks to become Chief of the Criminal Division.  Mr. Andrews was appointed to serve as the Acting U.S. Attorney for Delaware on three occasions, including by John Ashcroft, the Attorney General under President Bush.  He also clerked for Chief Judge Collins Seitz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Mr. Andrews has the strong support of both his home state Senators, Senator Carper and Senator Coons, who worked with Mr. Andrews in Delaware.  I thank Senator Coons for chairing the Committee’s hearing on Mr. Andrews’ nominations and for working hard to move it through the Committee and Senate process. 

The Senate must come together to address the serious judicial vacancies crisis on Federal courts around the country that has persisted for well over two years.  We can and must do better for the more than 163 million Americans being made to suffer by these unnecessary Senate delays. 

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