03.26.15

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

We are now three months into the new Congress with Republicans in the majority.  The Republican reign thus far has been defined by an attempt to shut down the Department of Homeland Security; a refusal to even allow a floor vote on an eminently qualified nominee for Attorney General; and the decision to inject a partisan abortion fight in what is otherwise an uncontroversial bill to build on our efforts to combat human trafficking.  On top of all of this, the Senate Republican Leadership has been unwilling to bring up for a vote any of the judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar.  Not one.    

The refusal by the Senate Republican leadership to schedule votes on any Federal judges is completely contrary to historical precedent.  This is also in stark contrast to the way Democrats treated President Bush’s judicial nominees.  During the Bush administration we were able to reduce overall judicial vacancies from 110 down to 28.  In the 17 months I chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during President Bush’s first two years in office, the Senate confirmed 100 Federal circuit and district court judges.  I also served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the last two years of the Bush administration and continued to hold regular hearings on judges and we confirmed 68 district and circuit court judges in those last two years.

The Senate must continue to fulfill its constitutional obligation of advice and consent.  The fact that we are in the last two years of this presidency does not mean our work is done.  In the last two years of the Clinton administration, 73 judges were confirmed, and in the last two years of the Reagan administration, 83 judges were confirmed.  I have heard Senate Republicans state that 11 of the judges confirmed in the lame duck last year should count towards confirmations this year.  That is a bizarre claim.  Prior Congresses have always confirmed consensus nominees prior to long recesses.  And Senate Democrats were only forced to do so because Republican obstruction had left judicial vacancies close to or exceeding 90 through the first six years of this President’s tenure.

In comparison to the current treatment of judicial nominees, by the end of March 2007, the new Senate Democratic majority had scheduled votes on and confirmed 15 of President Bush’s district and circuit court nominees.  The refusal to schedule a vote on a single judicial nominee this year comes despite the fact that four of these nominees have languished on the Senate floor for a month and were recommended to President Obama by their two Republican home state Senators.  Three of these pending nominees will fill district court vacancies in Texas, two of which have been designated by the non-partisan Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts as “judicial emergency” vacancies.  I would urge the current Assistant Republican Leader, who represents Texas, to work to schedule votes to fill those vacancies.  I would also urge the junior Senator from Texas, who has now announced his intent to run for President, to urge his Leadership to schedule a vote to fill those vacancies.

We started this Congress with 44 judicial vacancies, including 12 vacancies deemed judicial emergencies.  Today, there are 55 vacancies, including 23 judicial emergency vacancies.  Let us not go back to the first six years of this presidency when vacancies consistently hovered around 90.  The Democratic majority worked hard to reduce those vacancies so that our justice system could function effectively.  The Republican majority needs to put partisanship aside and schedule votes on these consensus judicial nominees.

Filling the current vacancies is necessary but not sufficient.  Last week the Judicial Conference of the United States, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, identified the need for adding 5 permanent judgeships to the courts of appeals, and 68 permanent judgeships to the district courts, as well as converting 9 temporary district court judgeships to permanent status.  This Senate should be working to provide the Federal Judiciary with the resources it needs, including the addition of more judgeships.

I urge the Republican leadership of this body to schedule votes on the current pending nominations before we break for the two-week recess.  Let us show respect to the independent Federal judiciary of this country and let us get these nominees to work for the American people.

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