Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Judicial Nominations

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

July 6, 2016

This week we mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence and celebrate the values upon which this Nation was founded. Back in Vermont, we celebrated on July 4th with parades and fireworks displays, as did millions of Americans around the country. It is important, however, not only to celebrate our values on July 4th, but also to live by them year-round. This means that we should embrace those public servants who, while working hard to build better lives for themselves and their families, enrich our communities and contribute so much to our Nation.

We see the true meaning of patriotism in those hardworking Americans who ask what they can do for their country and pursue public service. Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who has served for nearly two decades as a Federal judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is a perfect example. Chief Judge Garland also served for several years in the Justice Department, where he was charged with leading the Federal response to the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in our history. This is a person who makes us all proud to be Americans. But instead of honoring Chief Judge Garland’s service, Senate Republicans have undertaken an unrelenting campaign of partisan obstruction against his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Recently, Reid Hoffman, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of LinkedIn, penned an op-ed criticizing the Senate Republican blockade of Chief Judge Garland’s nomination:

“Effectively, [Majority Leader McConnell] and his allies are in the midst of a year-long strike.

“Imagine if entire departments at Fortune 500 companies announced they were going to stop performing key functions of their job for a year or more, with no possibility of moving forward until a new CEO took over. Investors would start dumping their stock. Customers would seek out alternatives. Competitors would make these companies pay for such dysfunctional gridlock. Eventually executives and employees would be fired.

“In Silicon Valley, such behavior would be corporate suicide.”

I could not agree more. We cannot allow Senate Republicans to unilaterally decide to refuse to do its job, and essentially create “dysfunctional gridlock”. I request unanimous consent that a copy of the article be included at the end of my remarks.

Instead of scheduling a hearing for an impeccably qualified nominee, Republicans are holding Chief Judge Garland’s nomination hostage in their hopes that the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee will be elected and make a different nomination. This is the same candidate who has displayed a stunning misunderstanding of the role of the judiciary, and who accused a sitting Federal judge of bias simply because of his heritage. While some Senate Republicans have rightly condemned those racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, they are still standing by the man who launched those racist attacks.

As former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach in Ohio put it in a recent op-ed, “if country really does come before party, how can anyone who calls himself an American leader still support this man who openly berates public servants based on their race?” I request unanimous consent that a copy of the article be included at the end of my remarks.

Senate Republicans’ partisan refusal to do their jobs extends to the lower courts as well. In the 19 months that Senate Republicans have had a majority, they have allowed just 21 votes on judicial nominations. As a result, Federal judicial vacancies have skyrocketed. This is not how the Senate should operate, and the American people deserve better. When Democrats controlled the Senate during the last two years of President George W. Bush’s administration, we worked hard to confirm judicial nominees with bipartisan support. During those two years, we confirmed 68 of President Bush’s judicial nominees and reduced the number of judicial vacancies to 34. We even held hearings and confirmation votes into late September of the election year, because filling vacancies with qualified nominees with bipartisan support is more important than scoring partisan points. Senate Republicans have not shared that priority, or else they would never have allowed judicial vacancies to nearly double from 43 to 83 since they have controlled the Senate, leaving two dozen judicial nominations pending on the Senate floor.

The nominee the Senate will finally vote on today, Brian Martinotti, was nominated over a year ago to fill a vacancy on the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Judge Martinotti has been awaiting a floor vote for over 250 days, even though his nomination was reported by voice vote by the Judiciary Committee last October. Since 2002, Judge Martinotti has served as a Judge on the Superior Court of New Jersey. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in private practice. Judge Martinotti has also served as a public defender, as a prosecutor, and as a municipal tax attorney. The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Martinotti “Well Qualified” to serve on the district court, its highest rating. He has the support of his home state Senators, Senator Menendez and Senator Booker. I support his nomination.

Even after today’s vote, there will still be 24 judicial nominations languishing on the Senate floor. One of them was reported at the same time as Judge Martinotti and has also been awaiting a vote for over eight months. We still do not have an agreement to vote on the nomination of Edward Stanton to the Western District of Tennessee. In 2010, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Mr. Stanton as the United States Attorney for that district. His current nomination is supported by his two Republican home state Senators and he was unanimously voice voted out of the Judiciary Committee. I hope the Republican Senators from Tennessee will be able to persuade the Majority Leader to schedule a vote for Mr. Stanton’s nomination before we leave for the seven-week recess he has scheduled.

It is the Senate’s duty to ensure that our independent judiciary can function. Senate Republicans must be responsible and act on Chief Judge Garland’s nomination, as well as the 24 judicial nominations that are languishing on the Senate floor.

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