06.15.10

Three District Court Nominations Confirmed

WASHINGTON – The Senate Tuesday confirmed three pending federal district court nominations.  The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to advance the nominations to the full Senate in March.  Each was confirmed unanimously by the Senate Tuesday.

Tanya Pratt was confirmed to fill a vacancy on the federal district court in the Southern District of Indiana.  Brian Jackson was confirmed to fill a vacancy for the Middle District of Louisiana.  And Elizabeth Foote was confirmed to fill a vacancy for the Western District of Louisiana.

The Senate has confirmed just 31 district and circuit court nominations this Congress.  In the same time period during the first Congress of the Bush administration, the Democratic majority worked to confirm 57 district and circuit court nominations.  There remain 25 federal circuit and district court nominations pending on the Senate floor, including 17 that were advanced by the Judiciary Committee without dissent.

The full statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) follows.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Judicial Nominations

June 15, 2010

Today, the Senate is being allowed to confirm only a few more of the 28 judicial nominations that have been reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the past several months, but which have been stalled by the Republican leadership.  We have yet to be allowed to consider nominations reported last November.  In addition to the three nominations being considered today, there are another 17 judicial nominations available that were all reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee.  There is no excuse and no reason for these months of delay.  The Senate Republican leadership refuses to enter into time agreements on these nominations.  This stalling and obstruction is unprecedented. 

The Senate is well behind the pace I set for President Bush’s judicial nominees in 2001 and 2002.  By this date in President Bush’s presidency, the Senate had confirmed 57 of his judicial nominees.  Despite the fact that President Obama began sending us judicial nominations two months earlier than did President Bush, the Senate has to date only confirmed 28 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  After today’s three confirmations, the comparison will stand at 31 to 57, which is barely half of what we were able to achieve by this date in 2002.  Another useful comparison is that in 2002, the second year of the Bush administration, we confirmed 72 Federal circuit and district judges.  In this second year of the Obama administration, we have confirmed just 16 so far.  Senate Republicans have allowed so few nominees to be considered that in one hour today the Senate with these three confirmations will increase its judicial confirmations for the year by almost 20 percent.  Meanwhile Federal judicial vacancies around the country hover around 100. 

This is the second year of the Obama administration.  Although vacancies have been at historic highs, Senate Republicans last year refused to move forward on judicial nominees.  The Senate confirmed the fewest in 50 years.  The Senate Republican leadership allowed only 12 Federal circuit and district court nominees to be considered and confirmed despite the availability of many more for final action.  They have continued their obstruction throughout this year.  Only 16 Federal circuit and district court nominees have been confirmed so far this year, although another 28 have been reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee. 

To put this into historical perspective, consider this:  In 1982, the second year of the Reagan administration, the Senate confirmed 47 judges.  In 1990, the second year of the George H.W. Bush administration, the Senate confirmed 55 judges.  In 1994, the second year of the Clinton administration, the Senate confirmed 99 judges.  In 2002, the second year of the George W. Bush administration, the Senate confirmed 72 judges.  The only year comparable to this year’s record-setting low total of 16 was 1996, when the Republican Senate majority refused to consider President Clinton’s judicial nominees and only 17 were confirmed all session. 

Senate Democrats moved forward with judicial nominees whether the President was Democratic (1994) or Republican (1982, 1990, 2002) and whether we were in the Senate majority (1990, 1994, 2002) or in the Senate minority (1982).  Senate Republicans, by contrast, have shown an unwillingness to consider judicial nominees of Democratic Presidents (1996, 2009, 2010).    

Over the last recess, I sent a letter to Senator McConnell and to the Majority Leader concerning these matters.  In that letter, I urged, as I have since last December, the Senate to schedule votes on these nominations without further obstruction or delay.  I called on the Republican leadership to work with the Majority Leader to schedule immediate votes on consensus nominations – many, like those finally being considered today, I expect will be confirmed unanimously – and consent to time agreements on those on which debate is requested.  As I said in the letter, if there are judicial nominations that Republicans truly wish to filibuster -- after arguing during the Bush administration that such action would be unconstitutional and wrong -- then they should so indicate to allow the Majority Leader to seek cloture to end the filibuster. 

The three nominees being considered today were all reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee in March, three months ago.  They could and should have been confirmed long before now.  They are supported by their home state Senators and in all three cases that means a Democratic Senator and a Republican Senator both support these nominees. 

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt has been nominated to serve as a federal district court judge in the Southern District of Indiana.  If confirmed, Judge Pratt will be the first African-American federal judge in Indiana history.  The Judiciary Committee reported her nomination favorably without dissent on March 4, more than three month ago.  Judge Pratt is currently a Marion County Superior Court Judge where she has served since 1997.  The substantial majority of the ABA rated Judge Pratt “well qualified” to serve on the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana.  She has seventeen years of judicial experience and has the support of both home state Senators, Republican Senator Lugar and Democratic Senator Bayh. 

Brian Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana was reported by voice vote by the Judiciary Committee on March 18, nearly three months ago, and has the support of both home state Senators, Democratic Senator Landrieu and Republican Senator Vitter.  The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Mr. Jackson well qualified to be a U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Louisiana, its highest possible rating.  If confirmed, Mr. Jackson will be the second African-American judge to serve on the district court in the Middle District of Louisiana.

The nomination of Elizabeth Erny Foote to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana also has the support of Senator Landrieu and Senator Vitter.  Ms. Foote has worked for the past 30 years in private practice at The Smith Foote Law Firm in Alexandria, Louisiana, after clerking for Judge William Culpepper of the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  When she began her legal practice in Alexandria, she was only the fourth woman ever to do so.  Her nomination was reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote with no dissent on March 18 and has been awaiting Senate action ever since.

I congratulate the three nominees who will finally be considered and confirmed today.

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