09.18.14

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

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Judicial Nominations
September 18, 2014

As the Senate prepares to go into recess, Senate Republicans are refusing to allow confirmation votes on the more than 20 judicial nominees who will now be stuck in limbo for months.  There is no good reason why the Senate cannot confirm these nominees before the recess other than wholesale obstruction of a co-equal branch of government’s nominees.

The Senate Republicans’ baseless obstruction includes blocking from consideration nominations made to their home states.  Right now, there are five nominations pending to fill judicial emergency vacancies in Kentucky and Georgia, which have gone unfilled for years.  The Republican Senators from these states have come out in strong support for the nominees from their respective states. Yet, the Republican leadership refuses to agree to schedule votes on these or any other nominations. This is simply delay for delay’s sake. 

Currently on the Senate Executive Calendar are qualified nominees to fill Federal trial court vacancies in Kentucky, Georgia, the District of Columbia, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Missouri. All but two of the nominees were reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support.  I wonder what the constituents of these states think is causing this delay?  I can assure you it is not Senate Democrats.

This Republican pattern of refusing to confirm noncontroversial, consensus nominees has gone on for the duration of this Presidency.  I have sought to remind my fellow Senators that their refusal to confirm these nominations prior to an extended recess is an unfortunate departure from Senate tradition.  Time and again, I have urged Senate Republicans to stop their obstructive practices and delay tactics. And once again, I am disappointed to see partisanship and senseless obstruction continue to keep the Senate from fulfilling its constitutional duty of advice and consent. 

It is true that since the beginning of this year, we have reduced the vacancies on our Federal courts from 92 to 59, but no Senator should believe that our work is done.  Even if we were to confirm the more than 20 judicial nominees currently pending on the Senate floor, the Federal judiciary remains significantly understaffed.  The Judicial Conference has identified the need for 91 new judgeships in some of America’s judicial districts and circuits with the highest caseloads. Last year, Senator Coons and I introduced the Federal Judgeship Act of 2013 to enact these recommendations into law.  The timely administration of justice should not be a partisan issue. It is an issue that affects all Americans, and the Senate should take it seriously by passing this bill.

The recommendations of the Judicial Conference underscore the need for the Senate to fulfill its obligations to the Federal judiciary and the American people. I have heard some Republican Senators claim the opposite by citing the total number of judicial confirmation under this President. It is true that the Senate has now confirmed 278 of President Obama’s circuit, district, and U.S. Court of International Trade nominees, compared to 254 confirmations at the same point in the last administration. Yet, these numbers are meaningless without providing their proper context.  These confirmations were sorely needed.  There remain 59 vacancies on the Federal bench – far more than the 45 vacancies at this point during the Bush administration.  There are an additional 25 announced future judicial vacancies on our Federal courts that will also need to be filled in the coming months.  If you care about providing our co-equal branch of government with the resources it needs to serve it constitutional role, then it is important to look at the number of vacancies that still exist and how long some of them have been left empty.  

Vacancies remain high not because of a failure of Senate Democrats or President Obama to make judicial confirmations a priority. These vacancies persist because of the endless obstruction of partisan Republicans who take every opportunity they can to shut down the important work of the Senate. Last year, no longer content to block individual judges, Senate Republicans attempted a wholesale filibuster of three nominees to the D.C. Circuit, without even considering their qualifications. Then, instead of confirming the consensus judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar prior to the end of the congressional session, Republicans forced the President to renominate each nominee, and for the Senate Judiciary Committee to report them again this year.     

In 2014, Senate Republicans have proceeded to filibuster each and every judicial nominee. The Senate has taken 62 cloture votes on judicial nominations so far this year, amounting to well over 400 hundred wasted hours that the Senate should have been spent considering legislation to help the American people.  Never before has the Senate seen the systematic filibuster of every judicial nominee, or such unfair treatment of qualified, consensus nominees.

The Senate should act quickly to confirm the judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor.  Because Republican obstruction will prevent us from finishing our work before the elections, we must return to session as soon as possible after the elections in November to complete our important work. The American people deserve courts capable of providing access to swift justice, not empty courtrooms and delays.

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