Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that one of the key focuses of the Senate’s next five weeks of work will be “clearing the backlog of judicial nominees that threatens the effectiveness of our justice system.”
Reid’s announcement is important for several reasons. Because of unyielding Republican obstructionism, Senate Democrats have been unable to schedule confirmation votes on all but a few federal judicial nominees in the past several months. This situation had created a backlog of nominees waiting for Senate votes and a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, where about one in ten seats is vacant.
The reason why it’s been so hard for Democrats to schedule votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees is that the Senate GOP has in the past few years taken full advantage of all the tools of obstruction that it has available. The Senate has to have unanimous consent to schedule an up-or-down vote – something that in the past has been routinely granted to judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have been refusing to grant votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little to no Republican opposition -- effectively filibustering dozens upon dozens of nominees. Only after months of delay are the votes finally allowed. Last week, Senate Democrats made it clear that they’d had enough and filed cloture to end the filibusters of two of the nominees – each of whom was subsequently confirmed in overwhelming numbers.
That’s right: Senate Republicans haven’t just been obstructing nominees who they find fault with – they’ve been obstructing everybody. President Obama’s nominees have been forced to wait an average of 100 days after committee approval just to get a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency was 24 days.
This afternoon, senators voted on the nomination of Margo K. Brodie, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern New York. Although she was unopposed in the Judiciary Committee, Brodie has waited for more than four months for her nomination to be voted on. She was approved on a vote of 86 to 2.
There are now nineteen judicial nominees still waiting for a Senate vote, most of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition. Ten of them have been waiting three months or more from a vote, and ten have been nominated to fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the twenty are women or people of color and one is an openly gay man.
Sen. Reid is doing the right thing in calling out Republicans on their obstructionism and ensuring that our courts continue to be fair and functioning.
February 21, 2012
Courts play a critical role for our nation and our communities.
Federal judges are required to give priority to criminal cases over civil ones. Since the number of criminal cases has surged over the past several years – a 70% increase in the past decade – judges are forced to delay the civil cases, often for years. This means long delays for Americans seeking justice in cases involving:
Many plaintiffs are forced into inadequate settlements and small businesses are pressured to make unnecessary settlements to end the expense and uncertainty of litigation.
A Serious Vacancy Crisis is Damaging the Federal Court System
Nearly 160 million people live in circuits or districts with a courtroom vacancy that could have been filled last year, if the Republicans were not preventing votes. This is the longest period of historically high vacancy rates on the federal judiciary in the last 35 years.
There are now 20 nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate:
George W. Bush’s judicial nominees received floor votes very soon after committee approval, on average:
The Senate today confirmed Jesse Furman to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, over five months after his nomination was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. The vote came after the GOP quietly ended its five-month filibuster of Furman’s nomination, which was all but unheard of for an unopposed district court nominee.
President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited an average of 91 days for an up-or-down vote from the Senate after being approved by the Judiciary Committee. For President Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency, the average wait was 23 days. The Senate GOP was roundly criticized last week for obstructing the nomination of Circuit Court nominee Adalberto Jordan, who was confirmed in a 94-5 vote after four months of delay.
“Americans across the board are fed up with Republicans in Congress,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “Watching the Senate GOP’s charade around judicial nominees, there’s no wonder why. Republicans in the Senate filibustered Adalberto Jordan, a consensus pick for a judicial emergency on the 11th Circuit and the first Cuban American on the court, for four months – and once their filibuster was broken, stalled him for two more days for absolutely no reason. Then, they filibustered Jesse Furman, an unopposed district court nominee who has been waiting over five months for a vote, but at the last minute backed down.
“The GOP backed down under pressure from Americans who expect better of their elected officials. Republicans in the Senate should stop the obstruction charade altogether and allow up-or-down votes on the remaining 20 nominees on the calendar.”
President Obama has announced the nomination of Jill Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor would fill a vacancy that has been declared an emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Pryor's legal skills are recognized by her peers. The Best Lawyers in America recognized her from 2009-2011, and Georgia Super Lawyers selected her as one of the "Top 100 Super Lawyers" in 2010 and 2011. In addition, she has served as president of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, as well as on the Georgia State Bar's Board of Governors.
Her peers are not alone in recognizing Pryor's qualifications. Georgia's Republican senators have both stated that she is qualified for a lifetime judicial appointment. In a January 24 letter to President Obama, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson recommended three attorneys to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia. They recommended Pryor for one of the two vacant seats in the Northern District of Georgia, but President Obama recognized that she has the skills and experience needed to serve on the Eleventh Circuit Court.
This seat has been vacant since August of 2010. We hope that Sens. Chambliss and Isakson, who clearly recognize Pryor's qualifications and judicial temperament, quickly give their approval for the Judiciary Committee to proceed to examine the nomination.
President Obama has gone out of his way to nominate to the federal bench highly qualified people who have earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike. That was clear in yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing for Jeffrey Helmick to serve as a judge in the Northern District of Ohio.
That Helmick was nominated by Obama and recommended by Ohio's Sen. Sherrod Brown makes clear his support from Democrats. He was originally recommended to Brown and then-Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, by a bipartisan committee. Rob Portman was elected to replace Voinovich in 2010, he has approved of Helmick’s nomination moving forward.
At the hearing, Sen. Brown discussed the strong support that state Republicans have offered the nominee. For instance, Jack Zouhary, a 2006 George W. Bush nominee, wrote in support:
You will find no better candidate than Jeff. He possesses the intelligence, the passion for our justice system, and the necessary temperament and people skills to be an outstanding district court judge.
Similar praise has come from Mark Wagoner, the Republican who chairs the Ohio's Senate's Judiciary Committee. Sen. Brown read an excerpt from Wagoner's letter of support:
[Helmick] is someone who has stood for principles, litigated honestly, and ably defended our constitutional system of government. These types of traits would make Mr. Helmick an outstanding federal judge.
Helmick should be confirmed quickly. But if the growing backlog of nominees languishing on the Senate floor isn't cleared up, Ohioans' access to justice will be at risk.
And the bipartisan cooperation keeps rolling on. This week, the Senate confirmed Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan to a seat on the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. A visitor from another country might not have appreciated the proportions of this achievement, given the fact that Jordan, who was born in Cuba and who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, had no discernible opposition.
But Americans ought to have a better grasp of how the Senate works. The nomination’s progress had long been thwarted by Mike Lee, a freshman Republican from Utah, who has decided to hold up every single White House appointment to anything out of pique over ... well, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re a senator, you get to do that kind of thing.
This forced the majority leader, Harry Reid, to get 60 votes to move Judge Jordan forward, which is never all that easy. Then there was further delay thanks to Rand Paul, a freshman from Kentucky, who stopped action for as long as possible because he was disturbed about foreign aid to Egypt.
All that is forgotten now. The nomination was approved, 94 to 5, only 125 days after it was unanimously O.K.’d by the Judiciary Committee. Whiners in the White House pointed out that when George W. Bush was president, circuit court nominations got to a floor vote in an average of 28 days.
No matter. Good work, Senate! Only 17 more long-pending judicial nominations to go!
The Senate this afternoon finally confirmed Judge Adalberto José Jordán to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Jordán becomes the first Cuban American to join the 11th Circuit – an important victory for Florida’s large Cuban American population.
What wasn’t a victory for Cuban Americans, or for any Americans seeking justice in the desperately overworked 11th Circuit, was the long and frustrating process that led to Judge Jordán’s confirmation. Despite being a highly qualified nominee with broad bipartisan support, the GOP filibustered Jordán’s nomination for four months, only to vote overwhelmingly in his favor when the filibuster came to a vote. And once the filibuster was finally broken, one Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a little-used rule to postpone the final vote on Jordán another two days to push a completely unrelated policy priority.
In the Washington Post yesterday, columnist Dana Milbank wrote that the Jordán filibuster reflects the GOP’s puzzling indifference to Latino voters:
Jordan is the very picture of the American dream: Born in Cuba, he fled with his parents to the United States at age six and went on to become a lawyer and clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With the support of his home-state senator, Republican Marco Rubio (Fla.), a fellow Cuban American, Jordan was nominated to become the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
There is no serious objection to his confirmation — which makes the hazing he has experienced all the more inexplicable. Republicans slow-walked his nomination (he was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee in July), then filibustered his confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Even when the filibuster was broken Monday night (by a lopsided 89-5), a lone Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a procedural hurdle to postpone the confirmation vote by two days, to Wednesday.
Congressional staffers I checked with couldn’t recall a similar instance of blocking a confirmation even after a filibuster had failed. This would seem to be a unique humiliation for a man hailed by the Hispanic National Bar Association because of “the positive message this nomination sends to the Latino community.”
To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: February 10, 2012
Re: Why is the Senate GOP Filibustering the First Cuban American Nominee to the Eleventh Circuit Court, Florida’s Adalberto José Jordán?
Florida District Court Judge Adalberto José Jordán has been waiting four months for the U.S. Senate to approve his nomination to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On Monday, the Senate will hold a vote to break the Republican filibuster of Jordán’s nomination, a step that is traditionally taken only when the minority party has significant objections to the nominee’s qualifications.
So why is the GOP filibustering Jordán?
They have stated no reason, which leads to the natural conclusion that stalling Jordán’s nomination is just part of their larger effort to create gridlock in Washington. In the process, they have kept a highly-qualified jurist – one who is wholeheartedly supported by both Florida senators, including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio – from becoming the Eleventh Circuit’s first Cuban American judge and filling an urgent vacancy in the federal courts.
In October, Sen. Rubio praised Jordán to the Judiciary Committee, saying, "I think his experience and his resume will speak for itself. ... As a community, we're very proud of Judge Jordán's nomination and we look forward to his appointment."
Jordán immigrated from Cuba when he was six and is the quintessential American success story. After graduating from the University of Miami Law School, Jordán clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and became a federal prosecutor. Since 1999, he has served ably as a federal district court judge in Miami, where he has presided over nearly 200 trials on a wide range of civil and criminal matters.
He received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and the Judiciary Committee members who reviewed his record agreed, voting unanimously to advance his nomination.
If confirmed, Jordán would become the first Cuban American to sit on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. What’s more, the Eleventh Circuit desperately needs this vacancy filled, so much so that the Administrative Office of the United States Court has formally declared it a judicial emergency. In other words, there are so many cases and so few judges that Floridians, Georgians and Alabamans are facing unnecessary delays as they seek their day in court.
Jordán’s nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor since October 13. That was four months ago. Republicans have absolutely no excuse for this latest obstruction and should allow a simple up-or-down vote on his nomination, as well as the 17 others still awaiting votes.
In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama called for an end to the unprecedented obstruction of judicial and executive branch nominees.
Cleveland, Ohio – Representatives from over a dozen Ohio social justice, legal and community action organizations from every part of the state participated in a conference call with White House staff today to discuss growing concern about the ongoing crisis in the federal courts.
The Senate ended its 2011 session on Saturday, leaving 21 judicial nominees on its calendar. All but two of the abandoned nominees were supported by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee. Under none of the previous four presidents has the Senate left noncontroversial nominees without a vote at the end of a session.
The Senate Judiciary Committee today reported out five new judicial nominees and the Senate confirmed three, bringing to 27 the total number of nominees still waiting for a vote from the full Senate. This puts the nominations backlog back to where it was last month before Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed through votes on ten nominees who received broad bipartisan support.
“Senator Reid took an important step last month when he stood up to Republican obstructionism and pressured the Senate to confirm ten highly qualified judicial nominees,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “Unfortunately, since then the nominations backlog has returned to its previous size. The Senate should make it a priority to completely clear the current nominations backlog. Holding a vote on all 27 nominees currently on the calendar would provide desperately needed assistance to strained courts throughout the country and demonstrate Congress’s ability to do its job.
“Senate Republicans have made a habit of delaying President Obama’s judicial nominees hostage for as long as possible. This obstructionism is bad for the American people, who depend on both an efficient justice system and an effective legislature. It’s time for the Senate to do its job and hold votes on these 27 nominees.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced last night that agreement had been reached for the Senate to consider ten of President Obama’s judicial nominees over the next two weeks as part of a time agreement made with Senate Republicans. The move comes after months of Republican delay and obstruction created a backlog of 27 judicial nominees waiting for votes on the Senate floor. The vast majority of those nominees faced no opposition in the Judiciary Committee and had the support of their home state senators.
The Senate returns to session today to approve a deal struck by the Obama Administration and congressional leaders to end a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. The deal will be approved by unanimous consent, a procedure that requires the presence of only a few Senators as long as there are no objections.