Charles Grassley

Grassley, Ignoring Iowa Groups, Delays Five Judicial Nominations Without Explanation

Washington, DC – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today ignored the calls of national and home-state groups and delayed Judiciary Committee votes on five federal judicial nominees. Sen. Grassley, the committee’s ranking member, has routinely held back committee votes on judicial nominations for one, two, three, or even six weeks, usually without providing a reason. Ninety-seven percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have had committee votes scheduled have met with these delays, before confronting even greater obstruction on the Senate floor.

Yesterday, 16 Iowa and national groups sent Sen. Grassley a letter urging him to end these routine delays of judicial nominees, which have helped create a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts. In response, Grassley flaunted misleading statistics and failed to produce a reason why he has delayed nominees far more frequently than his predecessors.

Ignoring the groups' call, at a hearing today, Grassley postponed committee votes on four federal district court nominees and one nominee for the Court of International Trade. Three of the nominees would fill emergency vacancies. It has been more than two months since the committee heard testimony from the nominees and had the chance to ask follow-up questions.  

“Sen. Grassley has chosen to put petty partisan politics over the wellbeing of our federal courts and the wishes of his constituents,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Because they take place in committee, Grassley’s delaying tactics usually go under the radar, but that does not make them any less harmful. Grassley and his party are delaying these nominees just for the sake of delay. At a time when federal courts are struggling to meet the needs of Americans, that is simply irresponsible.”

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16 Iowa and National Groups Call on Grassley to End Routine Delay of Judicial Nominations

Washington, DC – A coalition of 16 national and Iowa organizations today called on Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley to end a practice that has needlessly slowed down the confirmation of almost every single one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, helping to create a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts.

Grassley has used his power as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to routinely delay committee votes on circuit and district court nominees without even providing a reason. These delays at times stretched into two, three, even six weeks. Ninety-seven percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have seen their nominations delayed in this way, before experiencing long months of further obstruction on the Senate floor.

In a letter to Grassley, the groups said:

No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support … it has been your practice to delay the vote – generally without explanation. This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn’t about learning more about a nominee, and it isn’t about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject.

The letter continues:

The committee obstruction is part of a larger picture, one involving deliberate delay and obstruction at all stages of the nomination and confirmation process. But the routine and needless delaying of Committee votes is the form of obstruction for which you bear direct responsibility. And that gives you the power to change the tone by foregoing the practice.

The full text of the letter is below.

November 28, 2012

The Honorable Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Grassley:

We are writing to you in your role as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to request that you abandon the practice of routinely delaying votes on judicial nominees in Committee and permit the judicial nominees currently scheduled to be considered at the Judiciary Committee Executive Business Committee meeting on November 29, 2012 to go forward.

Although permitted under Committee rules, the practice of “holding over” nominees in the past was invoked only when there has been a significant question about a particular nominee that warranted additional attention. Under your tenure and that of your predecessor as Ranking Member of the Committee, President Obama’s judicial nominees have virtually all been routinely delayed, despite the absence of any questions, indeed of any debate, on most of the ones held over.

In fact, of the more than 180 men and women who have been scheduled for a Committee vote, all but five – 97 percent – have seen their votes delayed. Indeed, during your tenure as ranking member, all but one nominee’s initially scheduled vote has been blocked.

No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support … it has been your practice to delay the vote – generally without explanation. This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn’t about learning more about a nominee, and it isn’t about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject.

Americans want and need Congress to be able to debate the serious issues before us and work together on crafting solutions. But cooperation on areas of contention seems all but impossible if you cannot even work with the president on areas where you agree, such as the vast majority of judicial nominees.

The committee obstruction is part of a larger picture, one involving deliberate delay and obstruction at all stages of the nomination and confirmation process. But the routine and needless delaying of Committee votes is the form of obstruction for which you bear direct responsibility. And that gives you the power to change the tone by foregoing the practice.

Fortunately, you do not have to wait until the 113th Congress to show the American people your ability and willingness to work cooperatively with the president and your Democratic colleagues. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled votes on five judicial nominations for November 29. That is good news for the people of New York, California, and Florida, the states where judicial vacancies would be filled. Three of those courts are in such dire straits that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has formally designated the vacancies as emergencies. All five nominees – three women and two men – testified to the Judiciary Committee back in September, more than two months ago.

You can set the cooperative tone that the American people expect by allowing the Committee to vote on the five nominations as scheduled. Especially with time running out before the end of this Congress, an unwarranted demand to delay the committee votes for these five nominees would be particularly damaging and – should the Committee approve them – would seriously diminish the chances of their confirmation this year. It would also send a terrible signal to the American people of your intentions.

Sincerely,

Alliance for Justice
American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America)
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Compassion & Choices
Constitutional Accountability Center
Defenders of Wildlife
Iowa Citizen Action Network
Lambda Legal
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Fair Housing Alliance
One Iowa
People For the American Way
Progress Iowa
Working Families Win

 

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PFAW Memo: Debunking the GOP’s Disinformation Campaign on Judicial Obstruction

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: May 9, 2012
Subject: Debunking the GOP’s Disinformation Campaign on Judicial Obstruction

On Monday, 150 Americans from 27 states met in the White House with senior Administration officials and spent the day lobbying their senators to end the obstruction of qualified judicial nominees. For those Republican senators who may have thought the obstruction that is keeping our court system from functioning properly had gone unnoticed, it must have been an unpleasant surprise to learn their constituents are paying attention.

In response, Senate Republicans are throwing out a lot of irrelevant numbers and misleading comparisons in a desperate attempt to fog the issue, but they are plainly unable to rebut the clear fact that their constituents have noticed: that Republicans are needlessly obstructing judicial nominations.

For instance, because President Bush’s confirmed nominees at this point in his term were processed so much more quickly and fairly than have President Obama’s, the Republican Policy Committee concocts an excuse to ignore that inconvenient truth. They say we should be comparing President Obama’s first term to President Bush’s second term, because both saw two Supreme Court nominations that took up a lot of committee and Senate resources.

That lets them point out that President Obama has had more lower court confirmations in his first term than President Bush did in his second. But there is a reason Bush had fewer judges confirmed in his second term: There were fewer vacancies. When Bush entered office, there were 80 vacancies in the federal courts, a number he cut down to 37 by the end of his first term. In contrast, because of Republican obstruction, the number of vacancies began to climb sharply when President Obama became the person making the nominations, and it has remained at crisis levels his entire time in office.

In addition, although Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were confirmed in 2009 and 2010, the slow-walking of lower court nominations continued in ensuing years. In the 112th Congress, which began five months after Kagan’s confirmation, nominees have been held up on the floor more than three months on average, even if they are unopposed.

Republicans also blame President Obama for not making enough nominations. But the political reality is that the president needs the approval of home state senators if a nomination is to even get a committee hearing. And contrary to the practice of President Bush, the current White House actually consults home state senators in an effort to find consensus nominees. If GOP senators won’t work with the president to identify candidates who they can all agree on, the president is not the one to blame.

In any event, finding a nominee for every vacancy would not solve the bottleneck that Republicans have created at the end of the confirmation process. There are currently 19 nominees on the Senate calendar awaiting votes who could be confirmed today if the Republican leadership gave their consent.

But perhaps the most disingenuous talking point comes from Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. In yesterday’s floor debate on the confirmation of Kristine Baker to a district court in Arkansas – whose nomination has been pending on the floor since February – he says a Bush nominee to the same district was treated far worse:

I would note that President Bush’s nominee, J. Leon Holmes, sat on the executive calendar for more than 14 months awaiting confirmation. From nomination, his confirmation took over 17 months. Again, why was President Bush’s nominee treated worse than this President’s nominee?

Sen. Grassley isn’t comparing apples and oranges – he’s comparing apples and skyscrapers. Holmes was so controversial that even the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee did not approve of his nomination. In a rare step reflecting serious concerns about the merits of the nomination, a sharply divided committee voted 10-9 to forward it to the floor without a formal endorsement. After that, it was the Republicans who then controlled the Senate who delayed the confirmation vote for more than a year, fearing the Senate would reject Holmes. When he was finally confirmed in 2004, it was by a 51-46 vote.

So Republicans delayed a vote on Holmes because he was extremely divisive and lacked support in the Senate. In contrast, Kristine Baker – who cleared committee with a 17-1 vote and was confirmed by a bipartisan voice vote – was delayed by Republicans because of the Sotomayor and Kagan confirmations?

Republicans cannot deny that they are making President Obama’s judicial nominations wait more than 4 times longer for votes than was the case at this point in the Bush presidency, even though most of them are consensus nominees with strong bipartisan support. Their efforts to distract the American people from that stark fact resemble the Wizard of Oz trying to get Dorothy to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about statistics. It’s about people. It’s about the people who count on having their day in court, only to learn first-hand that justice delayed is justice denied. It’s the victims of predatory lending practices, consumer fraud, environmental destruction, and civil rights violations. It’s the business owners who can’t get relief from anti-competitive activities, can’t complete their mergers, and can’t enforce their contracts. This is about Americans across the nation who deserve a justice system that works.

Press contact: Miranda Blue, media@pfaw.org, (202) 467-4999

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Why is the GOP keeping women and people of color off the bench?

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker
Re: Why is the GOP keeping women and people of color off the bench?
Date: May 31, 2011

Last week, all Senate Republicans except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski united to block Goodwin Liu, President Obama’s nominee to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, from getting an up or down confirmation vote.

Radio Ad Highlights Grassley’s Criticism of Civil Rights Leader

People For the American Way today released a new radio ad calling out Sen. Charles Grassley for his criticism of civil rights hero Thurgood Marshall during Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's recent confirmation hearings. The ad will air in Iowa starting tomorrow.

"Parental Rights"

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