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

Republicans continue to object to requests for unanimous consent on basic things we should be able to do in a bipartisan manner here in the Senate.  In addition to my request about gender discrimination, Republicans have previously objected to unanimous consent requests to allow votes on noncontroversial judicial nominees with bipartisan support to fill vacancies in our Federal judiciary.  These requests are not remotely controversial, and yet, the Republicans continue to obstruct for obstruction’s sake.

Since the Republicans took over in January, their leadership has allowed only 9 judges to be confirmed.  A few district court judges have been confirmed in the last few weeks, but this recent increase in activity is in sharp contrast to their inaction all year.  When Senate Democrats were in the majority during the last two years of the Bush presidency, we had already confirmed 34 judges by this point – nearly four times more judges than Republicans have confirmed this year.

Republicans have tried to justify their poor record by accusing Senate Democrats of scheduling votes for 11 judges during the lame duck session last December.  They suggest that those 11 confirmations under last year’s Democratic majority should somehow be counted towards this year’s confirmation numbers.  First, it is well-established Senate precedent to approve all pending consensus nominees before the end of a year.  And second, even if we did ignore reality and count these 11 judges towards the Republicans majority’s record, that would only bring their count up to 20 confirmations this year.  That is still far behind the 34 nominees that Democrats confirmed in the last two years of the Bush administration.

The glacial pace in which Republicans are currently confirming uncontroversial judicial nominees is a failure to carry out the Senate’s constitutional duty of providing advice and consent.  We should be responding to the needs of our Federal judiciary so that when hardworking Americans seek justice, they do not encounter the lengthy delays that they currently face today.  Because of Republican obstruction, judicial vacancies have increased by more than 50 percent since they took over the majority this January and caseloads are piling up in courts throughout the country.

We can and should take action right now to alleviate this problem by holding confirmation votes on the 16 judicial nominees pending on the floor.  A number of these pending nominees have the support of their Republican Senators, and yet they continue to languish on the calendar without a vote.

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.  These are nominees that members of the Majority Leader’s own party want confirmed, including several from Tennessee and Pennsylvania.  Last week, we had a hearing for two Iowa nominees.  I expect they will be reported out of the Judiciary Committee soon.  We also have nominees from Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Maryland, who are waiting for their confirmation hearings.  None of these nominees are likely to be confirmed by the end of the year if Senate Republicans continue at this historically slow pace.

I hope Republican Senators will implore their leadership to vote on the pending judicial nominees without delay for the sake of the American people who seek justice before those courts.

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