WASHINGTON, DC – Today, six months after the last Senate confirmation vote on a federal circuit court nominee, People For the American Way urged Senate Republicans to agree to votes on all remaining federal judicial nominees.
“It is highly unusual to go six months without a vote on a single federal circuit court nominee, outside of a presidential transition,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “And it’s even more unusual for these kinds of delays to be thrown at unquestionably qualified and uncontroversial nominees.”
There are currently 13 district court nominees and four circuit court nominees waiting for Senate votes. Circuit courts have a uniquely important role in our system of justice, and the four circuit court nominees have been blocked longer than any of the others. Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma has been waiting six months for a confirmation vote; First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine has been waiting roughly eight months, as has Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto. Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz of New Jersey has been waiting a full nine months for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. All have extraordinary qualifications and the support of their home-state senators, Democratic and Republican. In fact, if they are ever allowed a floor vote, most of the circuit court nominees can count on a unanimous or near-unanimous confirmation. Their only “flaw” is that Republicans oppose the president who nominated them.
“Under pressure, Senate Republicans have finally allowed some progress in recent days in the confirmation of a handful of consensus district court nominees who should have been confirmed months before the election,” continued Baker. “But there is no reason why every one of the nominees currently on the Senate calendar shouldn’t have an up-or-down vote before the end of the term. More than ten percent of all circuit court judgeships are vacant or soon to become vacant. Given this vacancy crisis, and with nominees like these four, it is inexcusable for Senate Republicans to allow half a year to go by without lifting their blanket blockade on all circuit court judges.”
Washington, DC – This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid overcame Republican roadblocks to schedule confirmation votes on two highly qualified district court nominees from Connecticut and Maryland. Michael P. Shea of Connecticut has been a partner of a law firm with extensive experience in a range of civil and criminal cases, and Paul William Grimm of Maryland has served as the Chief United States Magistrate Judge for Maryland for six years. Both nominees have outstanding credentials, were approved by the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, and both have the support of their home state senators. Nevertheless, for no reason other than a desire to obstruct Senate business, Republicans have blocked efforts to allow confirmation votes. Shea has been waiting seven months for a vote from the full Senate and Grimm has been waiting for five months. These will be the first votes on judicial nominees since September.
“We are pleased that these two exceedingly qualified nominees will finally receive their confirmation votes,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “It’s shameful that the Republican minority has forced them to wait this long for simple up-or-down votes. These delays directly impact Americans seeking their day in court. In Connecticut, the judicial vacancy crisis is so severe that the Chief District Judge had to bring in out-of-state judges to help relieve the caseload. Senate Republicans must now allow votes on the remaining 17 nominees who were long ago approved by the Judiciary Committee and have needlessly been forced into limbo month after month after month.”
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.”
Washington, DC – At a time when there is a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts, Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet have done something unusual: they have expedited the judicial nomination process so that a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado will transfer hands without a long period of vacancy. If the Senate confirms him promptly, Raymond P. Moore will take the place of Judge Wiley Daniel soon after his seat becomes vacant in January.
People For the American Way praised Sens. Udall and Bennet for their attention to helping the president nominate a qualified jurist for the federal district court in Colorado. “Federal courts across the country are struggling to meet the needs of the American people. In many cases, it is because Senate Republicans are obstructing President Obama’s nominees. But too often, it is simply because senators are dragging their feet in recommending nominees to the president,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Senators Udall and Bennet have shown how the process can be swift and efficient.”
Federal judges often announce planned departures from the bench many months in advance so that the process for nominating and confirming a replacement can begin early, thus minimizing the amount of time that a seat is vacant. Then, for district courts in particular, the White House seeks recommendations of potential nominees from the state’s senators. In too many states, delay on the part of senators means a significantly delayed nomination, leaving courtroom vacancies unfilled. As a result, most future vacancies become current vacancies with no replacement nominated.
That is not what happened in Colorado. Last winter, district court Judge Wiley Daniel announced that he would be taking senior status beginning in January 2013. Sens. Udall and Bennet promptly put together an 11-member bipartisan advisory commission to help identify highly qualified candidates for the vacancy, which accepted applications during the spring and submitted its recommendations to the senators. The senators then forwarded the finalists to the White House, which conducted its own review, leading to the president’s nomination yesterday of Raymond P. Moore, a longtime federal public defender.
Yesterday, the wheels have been set in motion for the Senate to begin its consideration of the nomination, before the vacancy even opens up.
“The process that Senators Udall and Bennet set in motion to nominate Moore should not be unusual,” added Baker. “Instead, it should be a model for senators across the country. It is a testament to the commitment of Sens. Bennet and Udall to making sure that no Coloradan is denied their day in court, one that I hope many of their colleagues will emulate.”
Washington, DC – People For the American Way commended President Obama for putting forward seven nominees for seats on federal district courts today, and urged the Senate to promptly consider the 19 nominees currently awaiting floor votes.
“By nominating this slate of highly qualified nominees just one week after his reelection, the president has signaled that the federal courts will be a priority in his second term,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Now it’s the Senate’s turn to show that they’re serious about ending the vacancy crisis in the courts. They can start by voting on the 19 judicial nominees awaiting votes in the lame duck session.”
The Senate could easily confirm all 19 nominees awaiting Senate votes before the end of the lame duck session. In December 2010, the Senate confirmed 19 judges in less than a week. In November 2002, the Senate confirmed 20 judges in less than a week, including 18 on a single day.
During President Obama’s first term, Senate Republicans abused the filibuster to stall votes on even uncontroversial judicial nominees, contributing to a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts. While President Obama has nominated federal judges at a similar pace as President George W. Bush did in his first term, only 78 percent of his nominees have been confirmed, compared to 89 percent of Bush’s nominees. On average, President Obama’s judicial nominees have been forced to wait three times as long between committee approval and a Senate vote as did nominees in President Bush’s first term.