Statement On the Pending Nominees to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Pending Nominees to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

September 13, 2016

For two years, President Obama’s five eminently qualified nominees to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims have been awaiting a vote. This Court has been referred to as the “keeper of the nation’s conscience” and “the People’s Court.” It was created by Congress approximately 160 years ago and embodies the constitutional principle that individuals have rights against their government. As President Lincoln said, “It is as much the duty of Government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same between private individuals.” That is what this Court does – it allows citizens to seek prompt justice against our government.

Yet two years of obstruction by a single Senator, the junior Senator from Arkansas, has forced the Court to operate without one-third of its allotted judges. While these five nominees have been waiting for a vote, another judge retired, leaving the court with only 10 judges for 16 seats, or a vacancy rate of 38 percent. This takes Senate Republican obstruction of judicial nominees to a new level.

The Court’s jurisdiction is authorized by statute, and it primarily hears monetary claims against the United States Government deriving from the Constitution, Federal statutes, executive regulations, and civilian or military contracts. For example, the Court has presided over such important cases as the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans. It also presides over civilian and military pay claims, and money claims under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause.

I have heard no objections to the qualifications of any of the five nominees to this court. One of these nominees, Armando Bonilla, would be the first Hispanic judge to hold a seat on the Court. He is endorsed by the Hispanic National Bar Association. He has spent his entire career – now spanning over two decades – as an attorney for the Department of Justice. He was hired out of law school in the Department’s prestigious Honors Program, and has risen to become the Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Department. Mr. Bonilla should be confirmed without further delay.

Another nominee, Jeri Somers, also has a long record of public service. She served her country in the Air Force, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She spent over two decades serving first as a Judge Advocate General and then as a Military Judge in the United States Air Force and the District of Columbia’s Air National Guard. In 2007, she became a Board Judge with the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals and currently serves as its Vice Chair.

Armando Bonilla and Jeri Somers are just two of the five nominees that Senate Republicans have been denying a confirmation vote. These are two individuals that have done right every step of the way in their careers and are willing to serve the American people on this important Court. They have dedicated the majority of their careers in service to our nation. They deserve better than the treatment they are receiving from the Senate.

During the Bush administration, the Senate confirmed nine judges to the Court of Federal Claims – with the support of every Senate Republican. So far during the Obama administration, only three Court of Federal Claims nominees have received confirmation votes. That is nine CFC judges during the Bush administration to only three so far in the Obama administration.

It appears that the Senate Republicans’ obstruction playbook leaves no court behind. It spans from the very top – with their complete refusal to give a hearing and a vote to Chief Judge Merrick Garland, to the Article III circuit and district courts, to the Article I Court of Federal Claims, where citizens go to sue their government.

This blockade of all five CFC nominees makes no sense, especially because not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised a concern about these nominees either during the Committee hearings on these nominations two years ago or during the Committee debate two years ago or last year.

None of President Bush’s nominees to the Court of Federal Claims spent longer than four months on the Senate floor before receiving a confirmation vote. Two of them waited only a single day. After two years, it is well past time for these five nominees to receive a vote so they can get to work on the shorthanded Court of Federal Claims.

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