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

Today we will vote on the nomination of Rebecca Ebinger to fill a judicial vacancy in the Federal District Court in the Southern District of Iowa. 

Ms. Ebinger is a highly qualified nominee who has devoted her legal career to public service.  Since 2012, she has served as a district judge in Iowa State court.  Prior to joining the bench, Judge Ebinger served as a prosecutor at the Federal and state levels in Iowa, including in the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern and Northern Districts of Iowa.  During her tenure as a Federal prosecutor, she was the lead attorney on cases involving violence against women.  Judge Ebinger has the strong support of her home state Senators, Chairman Grassley of the Judiciary Committee and Senator Ernst. 

With her qualifications, I can understand why Chairman Grassley recommended her to the President for this nomination.  What I cannot understand is why moneyed Washington interest groups are calling on Republican Senators to oppose the confirmation of any judicial nominee, regardless of a nominee’s merit or qualifications.  Judicial nominees like Judge Ebinger have worked hard to build admirable legal careers that have put them at the top of their profession.  When judicial nominees submit themselves to the nominations process, they do so expecting and deserving to be considered by Senators exercising their own independent judgement. 

Judicial nominees not only deserve our independent and considered judgement, it is our constitutional obligation as Senators to provide it.  The duty to provide advice and consent on the President’s nominees is our own and cannot be abdicated to Washington political action committees.  This is especially true when such political action committees are advocating that we turn our backs on the American people by completely shutting down the judicial confirmation process. 

Too many Americans who have sought justice in our Federal courts since last year have instead found delays and empty courtrooms because of Senate Republicans’ obstruction on judicial nominees.  Over the course of last year, Senate Republicans allowed confirmation votes on just 11 judicial nominees – and judicial vacancies soared across the country.  When Senate Republicans took over the majority in January of last year, there were 43 judicial vacancies.  Since then, vacancies have dramatically increased to 77 – an increase of more than 75 percent.  Furthermore, the number of judicial vacancies deemed to be “emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because caseloads in those courts are unmanageably high has nearly tripled under Republican Senate leadership – from 12 when Republicans took over last year to 32 today.  Refusing to confirm any judicial nominees for the rest of this year would make the high number of vacancies in our Federal judiciary even worse. 

In addition to the vote on Judge Ebinger’s confirmation today, we have agreed to vote this week on another Iowa district court judge.  When we return from the Presidents’ Day recess, I hope Republicans will continue confirming judicial nominees with bipartisan support, as Democrats did when we held the majority. In 2008, when I was Chairman of the Committee with a Republican President, we worked to confirm judicial nominees as late as September of the presidential election year.  In fact, Senate Democrats helped confirm all 10 of President Bush’s district court nominees pending on the Senate floor in a single day by unanimous consent on September 26, 2008.  This was similarly true in 2004, when I was Ranking Member of the Committee with a Republican President, and we worked to confirm nominees as late as September of the presidential election year.

There are 19 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor.  The next judicial nominee pending after we return from the President’s Day recess will be Waverly Crenshaw, an exceptional African American district court nominee from Tennessee who has the support of his Republican home state Senators, Senators Alexander and Corker.  I hope the Senators from Tennessee will be able to convince their Majority Leader to schedule the Tennessee nominee’s vote to occur this month.  This is an emergency judicial vacancy in their state, so it is clear that this position is sorely needed for Tennesseans to receive swift justice in the Middle District of Tennessee.   

I urge my fellow Senators to vote to confirm Judge Ebinger and look forward to working with my fellow Senators to ensure timely confirmation of the other judicial nominees pending before the Senate. 

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