Senate Unanimously Confirms Two Judicial Nominees

Nominees Will Fill Judicial Emergency Vacancies

WASHINGTON (Monday, Feb. 28, 2011) – The Senate Monday night unanimously confirmed two long-pending nominations to fill judicial emergencies in the Northern District of Georgia.

Amy Totenberg and Steve Jones were first nominated in 2010 to fill seats on the federal district court in the Northern District of Georgia, and both nominations were reported to the full Senate unanimously in December 2010 by the Judiciary Committee, but the Senate failed to take action before for the 111th Congress concluded.  President Obama renominated both Totenberg and Jones in January, and the Judiciary Committee again voted unanimously to report them to the full Senate on February 3. Both are supported by the two Senators from Georgia, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R).

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged continued progress in considering pending judicial nominations, saying, “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.” 

The Senate has now confirmed seven circuit and district judges this Congress. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation for pending judicial nominations on Wednesday.  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 28, 2011

There is both good news and bad news represented by today’s debate.  The good news is that we begin another week by considering two of President Obama’s judicial nominations.  With judicial vacancies remaining over 100, nearly half of them judicial emergencies, the Senate’s action today on two outstanding nominees to fill judicial emergency vacancies in Georgia is much needed. 

The bad news is that we did not consider these nominations earlier, and that we are not considering any of the other 8 judicial nominees awaiting final Senate consideration and confirmation.  Two of those nominees, Sue Myerscough and James Shadid, were each nominated to fill emergency vacancies on the Central District of Illinois.  Their confirmations would help relieve the Chief Judge of that district, who is the only active judge in the entire district.  Chief Judge McCuskey wrote to Senator Durbin in November urging the Senate to take action to fill those vacancies, but we did not.  Despite the desperate need in that district, neither of these nominations received final Senate votes when they were reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last year.  Both have now been reported unanimously again, and we should not further delay taking care of this overburdened court and the hard-working Americans who depend on it.

I do thank, in particular, the majority leader for scheduling this time, and also thank the Republican leader for his cooperation.  I also want to commend our Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.  Senator Grassley has worked with me on each of the judicial nominations that President Obama renominated this January. 

All 13 of the judicial nominations that were unanimously reported last year have now been unanimously reported, again, this year.  To date, five of those nominations have been confirmed and with the confirmation of Amy Totenberg and Steve Jones, we will have reconsidered and confirmed seven of those 13 unanimously reported judicial nominees.

The Judiciary Committee has also now considered the renomination of Susan Carney of Connecticut to the Second Circuit and Michael Simon to be a District Court Judge in Oregon.  More than half of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of those nominations.  They should be debated and confirmed without delay, as well.

Working with Senator Grassley, I also expect to be able to move forward with Judiciary Committee consideration of the renominations of two district court nominees, Edward Chen of California and Jack McConnell of Rhode Island, in the next few weeks.  The renomination of Goodwin Liu of California to the Ninth Circuit will be reexamined at a Judiciary Committee hearing this week, at the request of our Republican members, and then reconsidered by the Committee, as well. 

We will be holding our third confirmation hearing of the year this week.  It will include Professor Liu and four other judicial nominees from Tennessee, Florida, and New Jersey. At the earlier two hearings we considered eight additional judicial nominees who now await Committee approval and Senate consideration.  We are holding hearings every two weeks and hope finally to begin to bend the curve and start to lower judicial vacancies across the country. 

I also commend the Senator from Iowa for his statement on February 14 during which he urged the Senate to turn the page and not revisit the recriminations from administrations past.  I agree.

The nominees we consider today are both from Georgia.  They were both reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee this year.  Both were reported the Judiciary Committee unanimously last year.  They were among the 19 judicial nominees who were ready to be confirmed by the Senate last year but were not.  When there was objection to proceeding last year, the vacancies persisted, the President had to renominate them and the Judiciary Committee had to reconsider their nominations. I expect that the Senate will confirm them both tonight and could do so unanimously.  Both have the support of their home state Senators.  Senator Isakson and Senator Chambliss have worked with the President and with me in connection with these nominations.

While I am encouraged that the Senate is proceeding today, I am disappointed that we did not consider these nominees and other nominees from California, North Carolina and the District of Columbia before the Presidents’ Day recess.  We used to be able to clear the calendar of nominations before a recess.  All six of these judicial nominees were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee weeks before the recess and are likely to be confirmed unanimously by the Senate, when they are finally allowed to be considered. With persistently high judicial vacancies around the country, the Senate should be considering judicial nominations without unnecessary delays. 

When these two nominations are confirmed, there will still be nearly 100 Federal judicial vacancies around the country.  That is too many and they have persisted for too long.  That is why Chief Justice Roberts, Attorney General Holder, White House Counsel Bob Bauer and many others—including the President of the United States—have spoken out and urged the Senate to act. 

Nearly one out of every eight Federal judgeships is vacant.  This puts at serious risk the ability of all Americans to have a fair hearing in court.  The real price being paid for these unnecessary delays is that the judges that remain are overburdened and the American people who depend on them are being denied hearings and justice in a timely fashion.

Regrettably, the progress we made during the first two years of the Bush administration has not been duplicated, and the progress we made over the eight years from 2001 to 2009 to reduce judicial vacancies from 110 to a low of 34 was reversed.  The vacancy rate we reduced from 10 percent at the end of President Clinton’s term to less than four percent in 2008 has now risen back to over 10 percent.  In contrast to the sharp reduction in vacancies we made during President Bush’s first two years when the Democratically-controlled Senate confirmed 100 of his judicial nominations, only 60 of President Obama’s judicial nominations were allowed to be considered and confirmed during his first two years.  We have not kept up with the rate of attrition, let alone brought the vacancies down.  By now they should have been cut in half.  Instead, they continue to hover around 100.

The Senate must do better.  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.   

We can consider and confirm this President’s nominations to the Federal bench in a timely manner.  President Obama has worked with Democratic and Republican home state Senators to identify superbly qualified, consensus nominations.  None of the nominations on the Executive Calendar are controversial.  They all have the support of their home state Senators, Republicans and Democrats.  All have a strong commitment to the rule of law and a demonstrated faithfulness to the Constitution.

During President Bush’s first term, his first four tumultuous years in office, we proceeded to confirm 205 of his judicial nominations. We confirmed 100 of those during the 17 months I was Chairman during President Bush’s first two years in office. So far in President Obama’s third year in office, the Senate has only been allowed to consider 67 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  We remain well short of the benchmark we set during the Bush administration.   When we approach it we can reduce vacancies from the historically high levels at which they have remained throughout these first three years of the Obama administration to the historically low level we reached toward the end of the Bush administration.   

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. 

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