Chris Kang, Senior Counsel to the President, notes on the White House blog that today markes the one-year anniversary of the day Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That means that Shwartz, an experienced and respected attorney, has been waiting a full year simply for an up-or-down vote from the Senate. The ABA panel that evaluates the qualifications of judicial nominees unanimous gave her its highest possible rating. Not surprisingly for someone of her caliber, she has the strong support of Democrats and Republicans alike, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Kang writes that Shwartz’s experience is sadly not unusual in a Senate that’s been hamstrung by an obstructionist Republican minority:
Unfortunately, the delay for Judge Shwartz is not unique. Last week, my colleague wrote about Judge Robert Bacharach, who was recommended to the White House by one of his Republican home state Senators, but waited 263 days for a floor vote before being confirmed 93-0. And on Monday – after 347 days of delay -- the Senate will consider the nomination of Richard Taranto to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Overall, President Obama’s judicial nominees wait an average of 117 days on the Senate floor for a vote -- more than three times longer than President Bush’s judicial nominees, who waited an average of only 34 days. The Senate must promote the administration of justice by returning to the prompt consideration of judicial nominations. It should consider Judge Shwartz’s nomination without further delay, as well as the fifteen district court nominees awaiting votes. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved five district court nominees. There is no reason they – and the others approved before them – should not be confirmed within 34 days.
The topic of discussion on Sandy Rios’ American Family Radio program Wednesday was diversity among federal judicial nominees. The Washington Post published a story over the weekend detailing President Obama’s largely successful effort to appoint more women, people of color and openly LGBT people to federal judgeships. The voice of dissent in the article was that of the Committee for Justice’s Curt Levey, who told the Post that the White House was “lowering their standards” in nominating nonwhite judges. So naturally, Rios invited Levey on as a guest and explained to him why she disapproves of President Obama’s diverse judicial nominations.
In particular, Rios disapproves of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, respectively the third and fourth women ever to sit on the high court. Sotomayor and Kagan, Rios says, have been forgetting their place and behaving “rudely,” “interrupting” and “speaking inappropriately” to, of all people, Justice Antonin Scalia.
While Levey correctly notes that “Scalia can give it out as well as take it,” he agrees with Rios that Sotomayor, the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice, “has occasionally, at least, stepped over the line.” In particular, he says Sotomayor – who he once accused of supporting “violent Puerto Rican terrorists” -- “sort of lost it” during arguments on the Voting Rights Act, when she contradicted Scalia’s stunning assertion that the law represents a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
In fact, while Scalia’s bombast provoked audible gasps in the hearing room, Sotomayor waited several minutes before calmly asking the attorney challenging the Voting Rights Act, “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement in Section 5?"
Later, Rios, with an impressive lack of self-awareness, marvels that progressive groups criticized Scalia for his remarks. “Groups on the left,” Levey responds, “shall we say, like to personalize things.”
Rios: I read an article that Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, at least this article was intimating that they are behaving in a – these are my words – sort of rudely on the bench, to Scalia and to others, interrupting, speaking inappropriately. Have you observed that? Do you know what I’m talking about and is that true?
Levey: Um, yeah. I mean, you know, Scalia can give it out as well as take it, but yeah, Sotomayor has gone over the line a number of times. Most recently in the Voting Rights Act case, which was just last week, where, you know, Scalia had the nerve to speak the truth and refer to the Voting Rights Act as “racial preferences,” which of course is what it’s become by guaranteeing that there be minority districts formed, minority congressional districts. And, you know, Sotomayor sort of lost it when Obama [sic] said that, interrupted and you know, basically made fun of Scalia’s comment. So yeah, I think they have the right to be aggressive up there, but Sotomayor has occasionally, at least, stepped over the line.
Rios: And on the Voting Rights Act and Scalia’s comments, you know, there were demonstrators at the Court last week, hundreds of them, demonstrating against Antonin Scalia. I don’t remember that happening. I don’t remember a Supreme Court justice – doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – but I don’t remember it being a subject of public demonstrations.
Levey: No. Typically they will, you know, they’ll, protestors at the Supreme Court will focus on issues, not justices. But you know, that changed of late. There’s been in the last two years a lot of, you know, progressive groups have gone personally after Scalia and especially Thomas and his wife. But you know, we see that in so much of politics, that groups on the left like to, shall we say, personalize things.
Rios: Yeah, as like in Alinsky, yes, personalize and target, yeah, so we are seeing some very new things and actually pretty dangerous I think.
Earlier in the program, Rios and Levey lamented the fact that President Obama has had more openly LGBT people confirmed to the federal bench than all of his predecessors combined. Echoing right-wing arguments made against Romney advisor Richard Grennell, who was forced to resign last year after less than a month on the job, Rios claimed she didn’t mind that the president was appointing gay people to federal judgeships, but that they are “activists who are trying to change the law.”
Levey: You know, I don’t have any problem with him nominating gay and lesbian nominees. The problem is that they should be gay and lesbian nominees who respect the Constitution. You know, there are…
Rios: I don’t disagree, Curt, just for the record, I don’t disagree with that. It’s the activists, activists who are trying to change the law that I will have trouble sitting on the bench.
Levey: Exactly. He’s not appointing, you know, conservative or even moderate, you know, gay Americans, he’s appointing very radical gay Americans. And, you know, again, it’s not so much any individual nominee as it is the pattern here. Of the 35 or so nominees who are pending now, only six are straight white males, even though about half the legal profession is straight white males. So, do straight white males have some, you know, right to a certain number of seats? Of course not. But if you were doing it in a balanced way without any preference for minorities of various types, then you’d probably wind up with about 17 or 18 of those 35 being straight white males. The fact that there’s only six tells us that there’s a system of preferences going on.
WASHINGTON – Today, Nevada judge Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination to sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, more than one year after President Obama first nominated her to the position. Despite her sterling qualifications, Cadish was never even granted a hearing before the Judiciary Committee because Nevada Sen. Dean Heller refused to give permission for her nomination to move forward.
Earlier this week, the nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan was blocked by Senate Republicans under similar circumstances. Halligan and Cadish both faced unfounded attacks from the gun lobby’s leadership, Halligan for a position she took on behalf of a client and Cadish for correctly describing the state of Second Amendment law before the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision. Both have clearly stated that they understand and would follow Supreme Court precedent on gun rights.
“Senate Republicans and the gun lobby have worked hand in hand to keep these two exceptionally qualified women off the federal bench,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Neither Cadish nor Halligan has displayed character or ethics problems let alone any sort of extreme ideology like that they were accused of. Yet Halligan was never allowed an up-or-down vote from the Senate, and Cadish never even had the opportunity to answer senators’ questions on her record before the Judiciary Committee.”
“The sinking of these two nominees shows just how far the Senate GOP and the gun lobby are willing to go, and how badly they are willing to stretch the facts, in order to keep President Obama’s nominees off the federal bench,” Baker added.
WASHINGTON – An effort to end the Republican filibuster of DC Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan fell short in a 51-41 vote in the Senate today.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:
“Senate Republicans have once again decided to put their own partisan interests above the will of American voters and the health of our system of justice. Caitlin Halligan is an exceptionally qualified, widely respected and unquestionably mainstream nominee. But a minority of U.S. senators, egged on by conservative activists and a party leadership with their own narrow agendas, have cherry-picked and misrepresented her record in order to keep her off the federal bench.
“Let’s call the filibuster of Halligan what it is: a politically-motivated attempt to keep President Obama’s nominee off the second highest court in the country. Four years into Obama’s presidency, more than one-third of the DC Circuit’s seats are vacant and the president has yet to have a single nominee confirmed to the court. In the meantime, the court continues to be dominated by far-right Republican-appointed judges who have pushed an extreme right-wing agenda on issues including environmental protection, workers’ rights and public health. This is not a coincidence.
“The American people have twice elected President Obama, yet a minority of U.S. senators continues to place a stranglehold on his judicial nominees. This has not only damaged our federal courts, which are facing an ongoing vacancy crisis, but has hurt the credibility of the U.S. Senate. Americans deserve better than this destructive, politically-motivated gridlock.”
WASHINGTON – In a 93-0 vote today, the Senate confirmed Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, almost nine months after the Judiciary Committee first sent his nomination to the full Senate. His nomination faced extraordinary delays despite public support from his homestate Republican senators James Inhofe and Tom Coburn.
People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“Robert Bacharach’s confirmation to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is good news for residents of Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, who will now see their justice system move a little more smoothly. Circuit courts have a tremendous influence on Americans’ pursuit of justice and the shape of American law, since the only higher court – the Supreme Court – hears so few cases. But the extraordinary delay in confirming Bacharach is a stark symbol of the dysfunction that Senate Republicans have brought to the judicial confirmations process.
“When President Obama nominated Bacharach in January 2012, his nomination was greeted enthusiastically by Sens. Inhofe and Coburn. In June, his nomination passed smoothly through the Judiciary Committee, where it was approved with broad bipartisan support. Then, Senate Republicans proceeded to stall his nomination on the Senate floor for no apparent reason. At the end of July, Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to hold a vote on Bacharach’s nomination, but was met with a purposeless GOP filibuster. Sen. Coburn had said such sabotage of his state’s nominee would be ‘stupid,’ but he and Sen. Inhofe ended up cooperating with their party’s leadership and refusing to help break the filibuster.
“I hope that today’s long-overdue confirmation of Bacharach signals a new willingness from the Senate GOP to work to quickly consider and vote on the president’s nominees. They have a lot of work to do. Three additional federal circuit court judges are awaiting votes from the full Senate: Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, who was first approved by the Judiciary Committee in 2011; Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz, who has been on the Senate calendar for a year; and Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto, who has waited 11 months for a Senate vote.
“Last term, President Obama’s confirmed federal judicial nominees waited an average of three times as long between committee approval and confirmation as did President Bush’s first-term nominees. As the nation suffers the consequences of a federal courts vacancy crisis that it the Senate GOP has helped to perpetuate, Republicans can and must do better.”
This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Caitlin Halligan to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the D.C. Circuit and Patty Shwartz to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit. The Committee also approved nine District Court nominees and two nominees for the U.S. Court of International Trade.
Since 2003 Shwartz has served as a Magistrate Judge on the New Jersey U.S. District Court and includes among her supporters New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Halligan, an accomplished appellate litigator who has practiced in front of the Supreme Court, is currently General Counsel of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and has strong support from the law enforcement community in New York and around the country. She was first nominated for the seat on the D.C. Circuit in 2010 and has faced ongoing Republican obstruction despite the Court’s pressing vacancies. The D.C. Circuit Court, the nation’s second most important court, currently has four vacancies (out of only eleven judgeships). This has serious ramifications for the caseloads for each of the remaining active judges, which have continued to rise steeply in recent years.
“The need to fill vacancies has never been more pressing,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “We are heartened that two highly qualified women have been approved by the Committee for the Circuit Courts. Halligan and Shwartz both deserve prompt votes.”
Of the thirteen judicial nominees voted on this morning, eight are women, six are minorities, and one is openly gay.
“These highly capable nominees come from diverse backgrounds,” Baker continued. “It is encouraging to see a list of judicial nominees who look like America.”
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today urged the Senate to turn its attention to clearing the backlog of federal circuit court nominees created by Republican obstruction in the last Congress.
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee easily reapproved three highly-regarded circuit court nominees who were blocked from Senate votes last year despite strong bipartisan support. These nominees – First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine, Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, and Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto – have all waited at least eight months for Senate floor vote since their first committee approvals.
Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley used his prerogative to hold back for a week two additional circuit court nominees who had previously been approved by the committee. Patty Shwartz of New Jersey has been waiting nearly a year for a vote from the full Senate. Caitlin Halligan, who was first nominated by the president in 2010 and first approved by the committee in 2011, would fill one of three vacancies on the highly influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Both will get new committee votes next week.
As the five circuit court nominees once more make their way through the confirmation process, President Obama continues to make new nominations, naming four new circuit court nominees this during the past week, including two today.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:
“The five circuit court nominees before the committee today were all approved by the committee last year and all have been waiting at least eight months for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. It’s bad enough that Senate Republicans forced all five to go through the confirmation process again this year rather than allowing them a timely confirmation vote. But it would add insult to injury if they are forced to languish on the Senate floor again. Surely, after all the time that these five highly qualified nominees have already spent waiting for a vote after committee approval, the Senate does not need more time to consider their qualifications.
“The Senate should quickly hold votes on these long-delayed nominees in order to fill the vacancies on these important courts. “
The White House announced two new federal appeals court nominees today, Jane Kelly of Iowa to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Gregory Alan Phillips of Wyoming to serve on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kelly’s nomination is notable for a number of reasons. If confirmed, she will become only the second woman ever to serve on the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees seven Midwestern states, and the first from Iowa. She would also help to bring a greater diversity of professional backgrounds to the federal bench, coming to the position after a career as a highly-regarded federal public defender.
Kelly’s nomination underscores the Obama administration’s remarkable success in bringing a diversity of voices to the federal bench. A record 41 percent of President Obama’s confirmed nominees have been women and 36 percent have been people of color. In addition, Obama has nominated more openly gay federal judges than all previous presidents combined. Despite the Senate GOP’s routine stalling of the president’s nominees, he has succeeded in bringing unprecedented gender and racial diversity to the federal bench.
Both Kelly and Phillips have been nominated to vacancies that have not yet opened up (Kelly’s vacancy opens tomorrow and Phillips’ in April). If the Senate confirms them quickly it will avoid adding two more vacancies to an already over-burdened federal court system. Promptly filling the 10th Circuit vacancy is especially critical since the 12-judge Tenth Circuit is on track to have vacancies in one third of its seats. A nominee for one of the three current vacancies on the circuit, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, has been waiting over seven months for a Senate vote, despite strong support from his two home-state Republican senators.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way called the filibuster reform deal set to be announced by Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) only a modest step in addressing the extraordinary GOP abuse of Senate rules. Among the provisions of the expected reform deal are a rule addressing filibusters of the motion to proceed to legislation and a rule reducing the maximum post-cloture debate for district court nominations to two hours from thirty.
“It’s important that we as a country acknowledge the need to address the unprecedented obstruction undermining the Senate’s ability to do its work,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Americans elect members of Congress to do their jobs and solve the pressing issues facing the country. That’s not possible when one party is committed to mindless obstruction.”
People For the American Way has long documented the harm this obstruction causes to our judicial system. As detailed in PFAW’s recent memo, “Empty Courtrooms in Obama’s First Term: A Slow Start on Judicial Nominations Magnified Many Times Over By Republican Obstruction,” Senate Republicans have blocked the nomination and confirmation of federal judicial nominees at an unprecedented rate during President Obama’s first term, leading to record vacancy levels in the federal courts. While there were 55 vacancies when President Obama took office, that number leapt to 90 during his first year and has rarely dropped below 90 since then. As the second term begins, there are over 100 vacancies.
“While these reforms will offer some relief against the persistent obstruction, they fall far short of what is necessary to fix the problem,” Baker continued. “Limiting the time that votes on district court nominees can be delayed after cloture is invoked is important, but the problem extends far beyond the district court level. We are disappointed, in particular, that the party leaders were unable to agree on reforms that would prevent needless delay of confirmation votes for critically important circuit court nominations when 60 senators have already voted to end a filibuster. With four long-pending circuit court nominations held up for months – two since March, one since April, and one since June – and denied a vote even during the lame duck, this does not bode well for how Republicans intend to treat President Obama’s circuit court nominees during the 113th Congress.”
Beyond judicial nominations, obstruction impacts the Senate’s entire legislative agenda. During President Obama’s first term, the number of motions to prevent bills from being openly debated reached a historic high. Republicans are now abusing procedural tactics to impede even the most routine functions of government.
“It’s time for Senate Republicans to understand how impatient the American people have become with their tactics blocking progress on a variety of issues critical to our country’s wellbeing,” said Baker. “These reforms take modest steps in that direction, but we will continue to be vigilant in fighting this needless obstruction.”