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.
To: Interested Parties
From: Jodi Hirsh, People For the American Way of Pennsylvania
Re: Senator Toomey Can Help Get Pennsylvania’s Judicial Nominees Confirmed by Encouraging his Republican Colleagues To Cooperate
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two nominees to fill two long-vacant seats in Pennsylvania’s federal courts. Each has broad bipartisan support and is strongly supported by both Sens. Casey and Toomey. Yet over four weeks later, neither has received a vote from the full Senate. Sen. Pat Toomey has recently urged their prompt confirmation, correctly stating that “The one thing standing between the confirmation and these two gentlemen putting on the robes and serving, is a vote on the Senate floor.” That’s true. And he says he will push for a floor vote in September. That’s good.
But in addition to making statements he needs to press members of his own party for action.
In fact it is Senate Republicans, including Sen. Toomey, who have systematically slow-walked nearly every judicial nomination that President Obama has made. Confirmed district court nominees under President Bush at this point in his presidency waited on average just 33 days from committee approval to a vote from the full Senate. In contrast, district court nominees under President Obama have waited an average of 96 days, or three times as long. This is not because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to schedule votes. It is because Reid can’t schedule a vote without the minority party’s consent, and that consent has routinely been denied even for nominees with strong bipartisan support like the two pending in Pennsylvania, just one of the many stalling tactics they have used to keep President Obama’s nominees off the courts
Pennsylvania nominees Matthew Brann of Canton and Malachy Mannion of Scott Township are not alone in waiting for Senate votes. There are now 22 judicial nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. Nineteen were approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support. Seven of these have been waiting since April or earlier for a vote. A third of these are women and people of color, nominees who would help diversify the federal bench. And most have been waiting for a Senate vote far longer than Mannion and Brann.
After the Judiciary Committee vets a nominee, especially a consensus nominee like most of the ones now pending, the Senate should quickly cast a yes-or-no vote. There is no legitimate reason for delay. In past administrations, we have seen multiple confirmation votes per week. But since May, Senate Republicans have allowed only one a week. There is no reason for this but partisan obstruction, pure and simple. Rather than being toward the bottom of a list of 22 nominees, Brann and Mannion should be at the top of much smaller list composed only of the few nominees approved by the committee in late July and early August, with the full expectation of confirmation on the day the Senate returns from recess.
For Mannion and Brann to have a realistic chance of being confirmed this fall, Senator Toomey will need to talk to his fellow Republicans – especially Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – and demand votes not only for Pennsylvania’s nominees, but for all of the many district court nominees ahead of them in line. Until those other nominees get votes, two courtrooms in Pennsylvania’s Middle District will remain empty.
Washington, DC – The Senate today confirmed Gershwin Drain, a nominee to fill a long-standing emergency vacancy in the Eastern District of Michigan. The 55 to 41 vote came on the heels of the Senate GOP’s unprecedented refusal to confirm even consensus appeals court nominees until after the presidential election. While Senate Republicans claim to be cooperating on filling district court vacancies, they are doing so grudgingly and inefficiently, allowing no more than one vote a week. As a result, the backlog of pending nominees has gotten larger and larger. Drain, nominated to fill an emergency vacancy that has been open for three and a half years, was forced to wait over four months after committee approval for his long overdue vote on the Senate floor.
There are 74 district judgeships currently or about to become vacant and 18 qualified nominees waiting for votes on the Senate floor. Ten of these would fill judicial emergencies. Most have been waiting for a vote since June or earlier; four of them since April. As the Senate prepares to leave for its August recess, there is no reason not to vote on all these long-pending nominees.
“There is no way that Gershwin Drain should have had to wait four months simply for an up-or-down vote from the Senate,” said Paul Gordon of People For the American Way. “Senate Republicans have already announced they’ll filibuster all remaining appeals court nominees, even those without opposition, even those strongly supported by members of their own party. Now, they’re making the confirmation process for the 18 remaining district court nominees painfully slow. There are more than 60 vacancies in district courts around the country that need to be filled immediately, with another dozen about to open up. The Senate GOP should start doing its job and let the President and Senate fill them in a timely manner.”