04.29.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Judicial Nominations

More than two weeks ago, the Senate voted to end the filibuster on the nomination of Michelle Friedland of California to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  That vote was the fourth time this year that the Senate had to overcome a Republican filibuster of a highly qualified circuit court nominee.  In stark contrast, the Senate confirmed 18 of President Bush’s circuit nominees within a week of being reported by the Judiciary Committee. 

The Ninth Circuit is the busiest circuit court in the country.  It has the highest number of appeals filed, the highest pending appeals per panel and the highest pending appeals per active judge.  It also takes far longer than any other circuit court to resolve an appeal.  The delay in resolving these appeals hurts the American people.  After the confirmation last month of John Owens and what I expect will be today’s confirmation of Michelle Friedland, the Ninth Circuit will be operating at full strength for the first time in more than nine years. This is an important milestone, but we should not stop there. There are five additional circuit court nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. I hope that Senators who care about Americans having access to the courts will allow the Senate to confirm these nominees without further delay.

Michelle Friedland is an exceptionally talented attorney, who like the other 19 judicial nominees confirmed earlier this year, could and should have been confirmed last year. She was first nominated last August and after her hearing was delayed due to the Republican shutdown of our government, she finally came before the Judiciary Committee for a hearing in early November.

In January, Ms. Friedland’s nomination was voted out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support and she has the strong support of both of her home state Senators – Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer.  Nevertheless, we were once again forced to follow the costly ritual of filing and voting on cloture and wasting valuable floor time.  There is no good reason we could not have voted to confirm Ms. Friedland last year, and there is no good reason that we did not have a vote to confirm her two weeks ago.  Meanwhile, it is our Federal Judiciary and the American people who suffer from these delays.

If confirmed, Michelle Friedland would increase the gender diversity on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  She would be the seventeenth woman to ever sit on this appellate court.  In comparison, 83 men have been appointed to the Ninth Circuit over the course of its history.  Her confirmation will bring the percentage of active female judges sitting on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to nearly 38 percent.  Her confirmation will also mark the first time since the 29th judgeship was added in 2007, that it has had a full complement of active judges serving on this busy appellate court.

I hope my fellow senators will join me today to confirm Michele Friedland to the Ninth Circuit so that she can get to work for the American people.

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