Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nomination Of Timothy Hillman

Today, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Timothy Hillman to fill a judicial vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  Judge Hillman has the strong bipartisan support of his home state Senators.  His nomination was reported with a near unanimous vote of 17-1 by the Judiciary Committee nearly three months ago, with the only objection coming from Senator Lee’s customary protest vote.  I thank the Majority Leader for his work in securing a vote on Judge Hillman’s nomination. 

I would note, however, that we have passed over consideration of four other nominees who are all listed on the Executive Calendar ahead of Judge Hillman.  Those nominees – Andrew Hurwitz for the Ninth Circuit, Jeffrey Helmick for the Northern District of Ohio, Patty Shwartz for the Third Circuit, and Mary Lewis for the District of South Carolina – are all extremely well qualified, have the support of their home state Senators, were reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee, and deserve an up-or-down vote.  I hope we will have a vote on them soon.

Judge Hillman could and should have been confirmed back in March when the Majority Leader first filed cloture on his nomination.  While I regret that he was not part of the original agreement reached by the Majority Leader and the Republican leader for a floor vote, I am glad that an agreement was reached to consider his nomination today.  Once we vote on Judge Hillman, we need to agree to vote on the 15 other judicial nominees stalled on the Executive Calendar because there are still far too many vacancies plaguing our courts today.

The Congressional Research Service recently released a report about the treatment of President Obama’s judicial nominations that confirms what we already know – that Senate Republicans have held President Obama’s nominees to a different and unfair standard.  For example, 95 percent of district court nominees in President George W. Bush’s first term were confirmed, while only 78 percent of President Obama’s district court nominees have been confirmed. 

President Obama’s nominees are also been delayed and forced to wait far longer on the Senate floor than President Bush’s nominees.  The median wait time for President Obama’s district nominees after having been reported favorably out of Committee is more than 4 times longer than for President Bush’s district nominees.  The median wait time for President Obama’s circuit nominees is 7.3 times longer than for President Bush’s circuit nominees. 

The simple fact is that the Senate is still lagging far behind what we accomplished during the first term of President George W. Bush.  During President Bush’s first term we reduced the number of judicial vacancies by almost 75 percent.  When I became Chairman in the summer of 2001, there were 110 vacancies.  As Chairman, I worked with the administration and Senators from both sides of the aisle to confirm 100 judicial nominees of a conservative Republican President in 17 months.

Senate Democrats continued when in the minority to work with Senate Republicans to confirm President Bush’s consensus judicial nominations well into 2004, a presidential election year.  At the end of that presidential term, the Senate had acted to confirm 205 circuit and district court nominees.  In May 2004, we reduced judicial vacancies to below 50 on the way to 28 that August.  Despite 2004 being an election year, we were able to reduce vacancies to the lowest level in the last 20 years.  At a time of great turmoil and political confrontation, despite the attack on 9/11, the anthrax letters shutting down Senate offices, and the ideologically-driven judicial selections of President Bush, we worked together to promptly confirm consensus nominees and significantly reduce judicial vacancies.  By working together, we lowered vacancy rates more than twice as quickly as Senate Republicans have allowed during President Obama’s first term. 

In October 2008, another presidential election year, we again worked to reduce judicial vacancies and were able to get back down to 34 vacancies.  I accommodated Senate Republicans and continued holding expedited hearings and votes on judicial nominations into September 2008. 

By comparison, the vacancy rate remains nearly twice what it was at this point in the first term of President Bush.  While vacancies were reduced below 50 by May of President Bush’s fourth year, in June of President Obama’s fourth year they remain in the mid-70’s.  They remained near or above 80 for nearly three years.  We are more than 30 confirmations behind the pace we set in 2001 through 2004.  Of course, we could move forward if the Senate were allowed to vote without further delay on the 16 judicial nominees ready for final action.  The Senate could reduce vacancies below 60 and make progress.

The recently released CRS Report also notes that in five of the last eight presidential election years, the Senate has confirmed at least 22 nominees after May 31.  Because of how far we are lagging from President Bush’s record of confirmations, we should be working to exceed those numbers.  We can start today by confirming Judge Hillman and the other 15 judicial nominees ready for final Senate action.  Another five judicial nominees were ready for final Judicial Committee action in May but held over by Committee Republicans.  Those five nominees should be voted out of the Committee this Thursday.  In addition, we are holding a hearing for another three judicial nominees this Wednesday.   With cooperation from Senate Republicans the Senate could make real progress and match what we have accomplished in prior years. 

Timothy Hillman was rated unanimously well qualified by the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, the highest possible rating.  He has been a Federal Magistrate Judge on the court in which he has been nominated for nearly 6 years.  Prior to his service as a Magistrate Judge, Judge Hillman served for 15 years as a state court judge on the Massachusetts Superior Court and the Massachusetts District Court.  He has also spent significant time in private practice and several years of experience as an Assistant District Attorney in the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Hillman is a respected and experienced jurist in Massachusetts.  His nomination has the strong support of both his home state Senators, Senator John Kerry and Senator Scott Brown, who introduced him to the Judiciary Committee at his hearing in February. 

Senator Brown said of Judge Hillman:

“We have in Judge Hillman somebody who is greatly respected in Massachusetts and especially in the Worcester area through his innovation and integrity and dedication to fairness.  He is really to be commended, and I want to thank he and his wife for, obviously, putting up with the process.  And I am going to do everything in my power to encourage my colleagues to make sure that we get a vote on this right away, because Massachusetts needs a jurist like him right away to do the people’s business, and that is so critically important.”

While this vote on Judge Hillman is hardly “right away,” as Senate Republicans have continued to needlessly stall his nomination for close to three months now, it is finally occurring.  This consensus nomination is another example of a judge’s confirmation being delayed needlessly for months and months for no good reason or purpose other than delay.  Given Judge Hillman’s qualifications and significant bipartisan support, he should be confirmed easily. 

After today, we still have much more work to do to help resolve the judicial vacancy crisis that has persisted for more than three years.  When the Majority Leader and the Republican leader came to their interim understanding in March, it resulted in votes on 14 of the 22 judicial nominations then awaiting final consideration.  Because the arrangement took months to implement what the Senate could have done in hours, the backlog of judicial vacancies and judicial nominees continues.  Today, we have 16 judicial nominees awaiting action.  Let us do what we did on November 14, 2002 when we confirmed 18 of President Bush’s judicial nominations on a single day.

Our courts need qualified Federal judges, not vacancies, if they are to reduce the excessive wait times that burden litigants seeking their day in court.  It is unacceptable for hardworking Americans who turn to their courts for justice to suffer unnecessary delays.  When an injured plaintiff sues to help cover the cost of his or her medical expenses, that plaintiff should not have to wait three years before a judge hears the case.  When two small business owners disagree over a contract, they should not have to wait years for a court to resolve their dispute.

We need to work to reduce the vacancies that are burdening the Federal judiciary and the millions of Americans who rely on our Federal courts to seek justice.  Let us work in a bipartisan fashion to confirm these qualified judicial nominees so that we can address the judicial vacancy crisis and so they can serve the American people.  

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693