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

Today, we will be voting to confirm Judge George Hanks, who has been nominated to be a Federal district judge in the Southern District of Texas.  Judge Hanks is just the second judicial nominee that we have voted to confirm more than three months into the 114th Congress.  The slow trickle of confirmations that the new majority has allowed is undermining the functioning of our Federal courts and is hurting the American people.  This past month, the Wall Street Journal wrote an alarming article about the backlog of civil cases in our Federal courts.  One man interviewed for the article filed a Federal law suit in 2007 and is still waiting for his case to be heard.  It is unconscionable that an American would have to wait eight years and still not have his day in court.  Unfortunately, it is not surprising given that at last count, there were more than 330,000 civil cases pending in our Federal courts.  This is a record high and an increase of nearly 20 percent since 2004.

There are steps the Republican majority should take to help our Federal courts better serve the American people.  First, the Senate should confirm every single one of the nine judicial nominees on the Executive Calendar without further delay.  Besides Judge Hanks, there are two other Federal district court nominees pending on the Executive Calendar, both from states with two Republican home state Senators.  Both of those nominees were reported out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously by voice vote.  One of the nominees will fill a judicial emergency vacancy in Texas that has remained unfilled for more than two years.  This type of neglect is unacceptable.  In addition, there are five other nominees to the Court of Federal Claims and a nominee for the Court of International Trade.  None of these nominees are controversial and they could easily be confirmed by a simple voice vote if Republicans would allow.

After today’s confirmation vote, there will be 53 vacancies on our Federal courts.  But even if we filled every one of these vacancies, we still would have to address the growing needs of our co-equal brand of government this is struggling with heavy caseloads.  Last month, the Judicial Conference of the United States, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, identified the need for adding 73 permanent judgeships, as well as converting 9 temporary district court judgeships to permanent status.  The Senate should be working in a bipartisan manner to provide the Federal Judiciary with the resources it needs, including the addition of woefully-needed additional judgeships.

The fact that today we are only voting on the second judicial nominee of this Congress shows that the delay and obstruction that we saw from Republicans in the first six years of the Obama administration has continued now that they control the Senate’s agenda.  One simply needs to look at the nomination of Loretta Lynch to understand how Republicans approach our constitutional role of advice and consent.  Ms. Lynch is an eminently qualified nominee and enjoys broad support, yet her nomination has now been pending before the full Senate for 53 days.  That is more than twice as long as all of the past seven Attorneys General combined:  Richard Thornburgh, one day; William Barr, five days; Janet Reno, one day; John Ashcroft, two days, Alberto Gonzales, eight days; Michael Mukasey, two days; and Eric Holder, five days.  This delay is an embarrassment for the United States Senate.  I agree with President Obama, who said last week that “there are times where the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far.”  The obstruction of this historic nominee has gone on far too long.  It is long past time for the Senate Republican leader to allow Ms. Lynch a vote and allow the American people to be served by this outstanding public servant.

The judicial nominee we are voting on today, Judge George Hanks, will fill a Federal district court vacancy in the Southern District of Texas.  Since 2010, Judge Hanks has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Texas.  Prior to joining the Federal bench, Judge Hanks was a Court of Appeals Justice for the First District of Texas from 2002 to 2010, and a judge on the 157th Civil District Court of Texas from 2001 to 2002.  Before becoming a judge, he was in private practice for nearly a decade.  The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated him “Well Qualified,” its highest rating.  Judge Hanks is supported by his two Republican home state Senators and his nomination was unanimously approved by voice vote by the Judiciary Committee on February 26.  He has strong qualifications and should be confirmed without further delay.

I urge the Republican Leader to schedule votes to confirm the remaining judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar.  None of the nominees are controversial.  We should do our jobs and vote on their nominations so that they can start doing their jobs working for the American people.

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