Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Nomination of Robert Wilkins

As we begin 2014, I hope we can set aside our differences and do what is best for this country by confirming qualified nominees to fill critical vacancies facing our Federal Judiciary.  We can do this today by voting to end the filibuster of Judge Robert Wilkins, who has been nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  Judge Wilkins was nominated last June, and it is time that he received an up-or-down vote on his nomination.  Last month, before we adjourned the Senate, we were able to confirm two other exceptional nominees to this Court – Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard.  Once Judge Wilkins is confirmed, the D.C. Circuit, which is often considered to be the second most important court in the Nation, will finally be operating at full strength.  The American people deserve no less.

Judge Wilkins is an outstanding nominee.  He was unanimously confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia less than three years ago.  He has presided over hundreds of cases and issued significant decisions in various areas of the law, including in the fields of administrative and constitutional law.  Prior to serving on the bench, he was a partner for nearly 10 years in private practice and served more than 10 years as a Public Defender in the District of Columbia. 

During his time at the Public Defender Service, Judge Wilkins served as the lead plaintiff in a racial profiling case, which arose out of an incident in which he and three family members were stopped and detained while returning from a funeral in Chicago.  This lawsuit led to landmark settlements that required systematic statewide compilation and publication of highway traffic stop and search data by race.  These settlements inspired an Executive Order by President Clinton, legislation in the House and Senate, and legislation in at least 28 states prohibiting racial profiling or requiring data collection.

Despite the progress made in the past several decades, the struggle to diversify our Federal bench continues.  If confirmed, Judge Wilkins would be only the sixth African American to have ever served on the D.C. Circuit.

Judge Wilkins earned the ABA’s highest possible rating of unanimously well qualified.  He also has the support of the National Bar Association, the nation’s largest professional association of African American lawyers and judges, as well as several other prominent legal organizations.  I ask unanimous consent to include a list of support in the Record.

I urge my fellow senators to end the filibuster on this outstanding nominee.  This Nation will be better off with Judge Robert Wilkins serving on the D.C. Circuit.

I would also note that on December 31, 2013, before the New Year, Chief Justice Roberts once again issued his annual year-end report on the Federal Judiciary.  In this report, he focused on the significant financial strain on our Federal courts.  The cuts from sequestration have had a real impact for Americans seeking justice, and pose real threats to the dedicated public servants who work in our nation’s Federal courts as well as to members of the public.  I hope that we can return to regular order in our appropriations process and ensure that our courts have the resources they require.  As the Chief noted, the Federal Judiciary’s entire budget “consumes only the tiniest sliver of Federal revenues, just two-tenths of one percent of the Federal government’s total outlays.”  We receive the benefit of the greatest judicial system in the world for less than one percent of our entire Federal budget.  It makes no sense to indiscriminately cut services from our independent Federal judiciary.  There are better and smarter ways to save taxpayer dollars.

Another threat facing our courts which is unaddressed in the Chief’s year-end report are the continuing vacancies experienced by the Federal courts.  Over the last year, the number of vacancies has hovered around 90 because obstruction in Congress has led to filibuster after filibuster of qualified nominees.  And the unfortunate action taken by Republicans at the end of the first session of this Congress will only mean further delay in filling these vacancies—Republicans, for the first time ever, refused to allow any currently pending judicial nominees to be held over so that they could be ready for immediate action this year.  For purely political reasons, Senate Republicans are forcing us to duplicate work this year that we already completed in 2013.  In the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee alone, more than 65 judicial and executive nominees were returned to the President and had to be renominated this week.  It is a waste of taxpayer dollars and valuable resources that could be spent addressing the difficult issues facing our Nation.  We must not take for granted that we have the greatest justice system in the world, and ensuring this continues requires the Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent.


Fortunately, due to the procedural posture of the nomination from last year, we did not have to send the nomination of Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit back to the President for renomination.  I thank the majority leader for prioritizing this nomination in the first week of the second session of this Congress.  I hope my fellow senators will join me today to end the filibuster of the nomination of this good man to serve on this important court.  


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