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

After finally scheduling a few confirmation votes on Federal judges last month, Senate Republicans have reverted back to holding up the confirmation process for no good reason.  The American people and the entire Federal justice system depend on the members of this body to fulfill our constitutional duty of providing advice and consent on judicial nominees.  This Senatorial duty is one we cannot neglect.  However, that is exactly what has happened since Senate Republicans took over the majority this year. 

I had hoped that last month’s judicial confirmation votes were an indication that Senate Republicans were finally ready to make progress on the backlog of well-qualified and uncontroversial nominees awaiting their confirmation vote.  But again this week there is no sign of when the next judicial nominee will receive a vote.  This is no way to lead the Senate.  When Senate Democrats were in the majority during the last two years of the Bush presidency, we had already confirmed 34 judges by this same time.  I have heard Republicans trying to justify their slowdown on judicial nominations by claiming they should somehow receive credit for 11 judges confirmed at the end of the last Congress.  That excuse holds no water.  It is well-established Senate precedent that all pending consensus nominees should be confirmed before the end of a year.  And even if we added those 11 judges to the 9 confirmed this year, that would still bring us to only 20 – which is a far cry from the 34 Democrats confirmed in the last two years of the Bush administration.

The process of confirming judges is about ensuring that the American people have a fully functioning judiciary.  Instead, because of Republican obstruction, judicial vacancies have increased by more than 50 percent since they took over the majority and caseloads are piling up in courts throughout the country.  Equally alarming is the fact that the number of “judicial emergency” vacancies since Senate Republicans took the majority has risen by 158 percent.  These vacancies impact communities across America, and it is doing the most harm to states represented by at least one Republican Senator.  Of the 66 current vacancies that exist, 48 of them – or more than 70 percent – are in states with at least one Republican Senator.

We should take action right now and hold confirmation votes on the 21 judicial nominees pending on the floor.  The next pending district and circuit court nominees – who will both fill judicial emergency vacancies – were nominated one year ago and yet both are still awaiting the majority leader’s action to simply schedule their confirmation votes.  The next district court nominee on the Executive Calendar is LaShann Hall, an outstanding African American woman who has been nominated to serve in the Eastern District of New York.  And directly following that nomination is Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, who, when confirmed, will be the first ever Hispanic judge from Pennsylvania on the Third Circuit and only the second Hispanic judge to serve on the Third Circuit.  Judge Restrepo has strong bipartisan support from his home state Senators, Senator Toomey and Senator Casey.  At Judge Restrepo’s hearing, Senator Toomey stated that “there is no question [Judge Restrepo] is a very well qualified candidate to serve on the Third Circuit” and underscored the fact that he recommended that the President nominate Judge Restrepo.  Although there is an urgent need to fill the emergency vacancy on the Third Circuit, the Republican leadership has refused to hold a confirmation vote.  All Democrats support this nominee.  I hope Senator Toomey will seek a firm commitment from his Republican leadership to schedule a vote this week for Judge Restrepo.         

In addition to Judge Restrepo, a number of these pending nominees have the support of their Republican home state Senators.  Just last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out two Iowa nominees recommended to the President by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.   However, if Republican obstruction continues, and if home state Senators cannot persuade the Majority Leader to schedule a vote for their nominees soon, then it is unlikely that even highly qualified nominees with Republican support will be confirmed by the end of the year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


No Senator has raised a single objection to any of the 21 judicial nominees pending on the floor.  Each one was reported out of the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote.  And each has the backing of their home state Senators, including Republican Senators.  Senate Republicans have no excuses left.


I hope the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and the other Republican Senators will implore their leadership to schedule votes on the judicial nominees pending on the floor without further delay.   


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