judicial nominees

Judicial Nominees Move Forward as GOP Obstruction Talking Points Fall Apart

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the powerful Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. There are currently four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit – and Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling a single one.

The Senate GOP has been unusually cooperative with Srinivasan’s nomination, but have signaled that they will not be so friendly to future nominees to the court. Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley is actually trying to permanently lower the number of judgeships on the court to prevent President Obama from reversing its far-right, anti-consumer, anti-worker tilt.

The Senate yesterday also confirmed William Orrick to serve on the District Court for the Northern District of California, a seat that had been officially designated a “judicial emergency” because of its overworked courts. The confirmation vote came a full eight months after Orrick was first approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a Senate floor speech Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts discussed the Senate GOP’s extraordinary obstruction of federal judicial nominees, noting the high level of officially-designated “judicial emergencies,” which has risen by 30  percent since the beginning of the year.

The Founders of our Republic gave to the President the task of nominating individuals to serve and gave us the responsibility to advise on and consent to these appointments. For more than 200 years this process has worked. 

Presidents over the years have nominated thousands of qualified men and women who were willing to serve in key executive branch positions.

The Senate has considered nominations in a timely fashion and taken up-or-down votes. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but we have never seen anything like this. Time and again, Members of this body have resorted to procedural technicalities and flatout obstructionism to block qualified nominees.

At the moment, there are 85 judicial vacancies in the U.S. courts, some of which are classified as ``judicial emergencies.'' That is more than double the number of judicial vacancies at the comparable point during President George W. Bush's second term. Yet right now there are 10 nominees awaiting a vote in the Senate, and they have not gotten one.

Senate Republicans like to blame the judicial vacancy crisis on President Obama, whom they say has not been quick enough to nominate judges. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas ran into the fallacy of this talking point last week, when he was called out for blaming the president for Texas vacancies that Cornyn himself was responsible for. 

The president continued his steady pace of federal judicial nominations last night,  nominating four women to federal judgeships in Utah, Tennessee, New York and Mississippi. 

UPDATE: The White House points out in a blog post today that President Obama has now nominated more district court judges than had President Bush at this point in his presidency.

PFAW

PFAW Statement on Bipartisan Committee Approval of Sri Srinivasan

WASHINGTON – Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous approval today of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit:

“The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan approval of Sri Srinivasan is an important step toward ending the extraordinary vacancy crisis on the nation’s second most influential court.

“The seat on the D.C. Circuit that Srinivasan would fill has been open for nearly five years and is one of an astonishing four vacancies on the 11-member court. Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling even one of those vacancies in an effort to preserve the court’s anti-worker and anti-consumer tilt. Republicans twice filibustered the nomination of the eminently qualified Caitlin Halligan and even delayed a committee hearing on Srinivasan for nearly ten months.

“Senate Republicans cannot hide behind their friendly treatment of Srinivasan as they obstruct future nominees to the D.C. Circuit.  Republicans are pressing the claim that there’s no need to fill any more vacancies on this critically important court. This argument is false, hypocritical, and clearly politically motivated. We fully expect Srinivasan to be promptly confirmed by the full Senate and will continue to push for the nomination and swift confirmation of strong jurists to the remaining seats on the D.C. Circuit.”

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Senate Republicans Treating President Obama’s Judicial Nominees Exceptionally Poorly, CRS Study Finds

A new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service [pdf] quantifies the extent to which Senate Republicans have been stalling President Obama’s judicial nominees. Through this persistent obstruction, Senate Republicans have kept the chamber mired in gridlock, thrown the federal courts into an historic vacancy crisis, and prevented President Obama from restoring ideological balance to a system still dominated by George W. Bush nominees.

The study finds that President Obama’s judicial nominees – including those with no partisan opposition – face extraordinary wait times for simple yes-or-no votes from the Senate.

CRS notes that “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year.” In particular, the study notes, the wait times for district court nominees – whose decisions do not bind other courts and who have historically been approved quickly and without controversy – have shot up in the past four years:

Where President Obama’s judicial nominees face the greatest delays is between approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Because the Senate must have unanimous consent or invoke cloture to hold an up-or-down vote, senators in the minority can quietly filibuster judicial nominees for months without giving a reason for delaying the votes. For instance, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, who was nominated to a seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, was forced to wait nine months for a vote from the full Senate, despite the fact that he was supported by both of his home state’s conservative Republican senators. In the end, he was confirmed unanimously.

Perhaps the starkest example of Republican obstruction under  President Obama is the gridlock that completely unopposed judicial nominees have faced. CRS finds that President Obama’s unopposed district court nominees have waited nearly three times as long for a Senate vote as did President Bush’s and nearly six times as long as President Clinton’s. His unopposed circuit court nominees have waited over four times as long as President Bush’s and seven times as long as President Bush’s.

It’s important to note also that many more of President Obama’s nominees would count as unopposed – making these numbers even more dramatic -- if Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah hadn’t spent a year opposing every one of President Obama’s judicial nominees in protest of a completely unrelated issue.

 

PFAW

The Filibuster ‘False Equivalence’

Journalist Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explains how attempts to portray today’s Republican filibusters as routine “tit-for-tat” maneuvers are misleading:

By trying not to be partisan, at least in this area of political coverage, we journalists are in many ways becoming more partisan than we fear. James Fallows, the author and longtime correspondent at The Atlantic, has been preaching for years now about “false equivalence” in reporting about the Senate’s current gridlock. He has called out reporters and editors, producers and television hosts, headline writers and analysts, for their continuing failure to call it like it really is when it comes to these Senate votes. For example, on Wednesday, in the wake of the background check vote, which “passed” the Senate by a vote of 54-46 but effectively “failed” because of the threat of a filibuster, Fallows again explained the concept. He wrote:

Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine. As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill — and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.

News consumers, in other words, are led to believe that what is happening is just “politics as usual,” tit-for-tat, part of the murky vote-counting calculus that has always been a part of the Senate’s rules. But there is now ample evidence to suggest that this tactic has fundamentally changed the way Congress works. In 2009 alone, the Brennan Center’s Diana Kasdan told me last week, “there was double the number of filibusters that occurred in the entire 20-year period from 1950-1969, when they were used repeatedly and notoriously to block civil rights legislation.”  In other words, today’s abuse of the filibuster is extraordinary. Yet Fallows gives many examples — actual headlines, probably hundreds of them over the years — in which journalists have refused or failed to properly communicate this to their audience. Without adequate context and perspective about what is happening in the Senate, the American people are hampered in how quickly they can force their elected officials to change (or, more accurately, to change their elected officials).

In fact, as we have reported here, today’s GOP has taken Senate obstruction to an extraordinary new level.

PFAW

Fact Sheet: GOP Obstruction and the D.C. Circuit

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Srinivasan, who was first nominated ten months ago yet is just now receiving a hearing, is the latest Obama judicial nominee caught in the web of Senate obstruction.  Last month, Republicans blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the same court,  despite her impeccable qualifications and strong bipartisan backing. Some important facts to keep in mind during and after today’s hearing:

  • President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to serve a full first term without putting a single judge on the D.C. Circuit. There are currently four vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit, and three of the remaining judges are eligible for retirement or senior status, meaning we could soon see as many as seven vacancies on this 11-member court. Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling a single one, although he first nominated Srinivasan ten months ago and Halligan in 2010.

  • The D.C. Circuit, which has the final word on reams of executive actions, congressional enactments, and federal regulations each year, is currently dominated by far-right George W. Bush nominees. President Bush succeeded in shifting the courts – and especially the D.C. Circuit -- far to the right during his presidency. His D.C. Circuit nominees have systematically rolled back protections for workers and consumers. A mainstream Obama nominee would provide some much-needed balance to this influential court.
  • Our federal courts are suffering because of entrenched Republican obstruction. Because of both public and silent Republican filibusters, President Obama’s appeals court nominees have been forced to wait an average of 153 days between Judiciary Committee approval and a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. At this point in Bush’s presidency, the average wait for confirmed appeals court nominees was just 37 days. The foot-dragging is unrelated to who the nominee is – even consensus nominees with the strong support of their Republican home-state senators have been forced to wait for months through active or silent filibusters before the Senate is finally allowed to hold a confirmation vote. This pointless obstruction, which is echoed at the district court level, has led to persistently high vacancy rates and longer waits for Americans seeking their day in court.


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Senate Confirms New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz After Year-Long Delay

WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Judge Patty Shwartz of New Jersey to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 64 to 34 vote today, over one year after her nomination was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:

“The absurd delay of Patty Shwartz’s confirmation is emblematic of a Republican Party determined to obstruct the American people’s business at all costs. Judge Shwartz is indisputably qualified and supported by New Jersey’s legal leaders and elected officials from both parties, including Gov. Christie and both of the state’s U.S. senators. The only thing stopping the Senate from voting on her nomination was a 13-month Republican silent filibuster supported by flimsy excuses.

“The delay in confirming Judge Shwartz is sadly not unusual. President Obama’s confirmed circuit court nominees have been forced to wait an average of 153 days from Judiciary Committee approval to floor vote. By contrast, George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees at this point in his presidency waited an average of just 37 days. This deliberate slow-walking of nominees is obstructing Senate business, exacerbating a vacancy crisis in our federal courts, and deterring highly qualified individuals from putting themselves forward to serve on the federal bench. 

“This summer, two more Third Circuit judgeships will become vacant. We hope that Senate Republicans will allow these vacancies to be filled in a timely manner.”

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The NRA vs. Judicial Nominees

Back in December, The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse wrote a great article explaining how the National Rifle Association has worked in concert with Republican senators to oppose many of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees – usually without anything close to a legitimate reason. The NRA’s “symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party,” Greenhouse wrote, led the group to oppose judicial nominees like Sonia Sotomayor, who had next to no record on the Second Amendment, and the party to chip in when the NRA didn’t like a nominee.

It is that symbiotic relationship that succeeded in sinking the nominations of two highly qualified women to federal courts this week. Both were unquestionably qualified and well-respected in legal circles. The NRA and the Senate GOP went after both for completely unfounded reasons.

Caitlin Halligan was President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Never mind that she had broad bipartisan support and sterling credentials. She had once represented a client, the state of New York, in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Back when John Roberts was being considered for the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans said that judicial nominees shouldn’t be held responsible for positions they took as lawyers on behalf of clients. But no matter. Senate Republicans twice voted to filibuster her nomination – most recently on Wednesday – never even allowing her an up-or-down vote.

Then today, Nevada District Court nominee Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination over one year after she had been selected by President Obama. Her story was similar. Filling out a questionnaire in 2008, Cadish stated that under then-current law, the constitutional right to bear arms didn’t apply to individual citizens. She was correct. Two months later in a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court established for the first time that the Second Amendment does contain that right. Cadish made clear that she understood, and would follow, the new Supreme Court precedent.

But no matter. The NRA targeted Cadish and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller used a little-known Senate practice to keep her from ever even getting the chance to explain her views in front of the Judiciary Committee. Under committee procedures used by Chairman Patrick Leahy as a courtesy to his colleagues, a nominee is not granted a hearing unless both of her home-state senators give permission in the form of a “blue slip.” Heller simply refused to sign the blue slip for Cadish, thus single-handedly sinking her nomination.

The flimsiness of the arguments against Cadish and Halligan, and the fact that much of the opposition took place behind the scenes (in the case of Cadish without even a public hearing), betrays the real reason the NRA and the GOP were working to keep these women off the federal bench. They just don’t want President Obama to be nominating federal judges.

 

PFAW

PFAW: GOP and NRA Leadership Keep Two Qualified Women off the Bench

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.

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Memo: The Filibuster of Caitlin Halligan and the Future of the Courts

Senate Republicans defeated a second attempt to end the filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the 11-seat DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The filibuster of Halligan is important for a number of reasons.

End the Filibuster of Caitlin Halligan

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to file cloture again yesterday to end the Republican filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A cloture vote is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“The filibuster of Caitlin Halligan shows just how broken the Senate has become. In 2005, a bipartisan group of senators agreed to filibuster judicial nominees only under ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ Since then, the Senate GOP has radically redefined the meaning of ‘extraordinary,’ stalling and blocking nominees on the flimsiest of threads.

“We hope senators will listen to their consciences on this vote. Opponents are cherry-picking and twisting Halligan’s  record in their attempt to block an exceptionally qualified, mainstream nominee. If they succeed, they will be ensuring a continued vacancy crisis in the second most important court in the country, which thanks to Republican obstruction is now operating with more than one-third of its active judgeships vacant. I hope that fair-minded Senate Republicans will stand up to their party’s leadership and allow this enormously well qualified woman to have the up-or-down vote she deserves.”

Yesterday, People For the American Way sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the filibuster of Halligan. The full text of the letter can be found here.

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PFAW Urges Senate to Confirm Halligan

People For the American Way today sent letters to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to vote to confirm Caitlin Halligan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The full text of the letter:

March 4, 2013
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we write to express our strong support for the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  District of Columbia Circuit. With a fourth seat on this 11-member court becoming vacant, the urgency  of confirming Halligan becomes even more pressing.

Caitlin Halligan is supremely qualified with a broad level of support in the legal, women’s and law  enforcement  communities. Currently the General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office,  she also spent six years serving as New York State's Solicitor General. She is a nationally respected  litigator who has earned the ABA's highest possible evaluation of her qualifications.

Her career shows that she recognizes that protecting individuals, their families, and their entire  communities requires not only tough prosecution, but tough prosecution done fairly. So while she shares  management responsibility for the Manhattan DA's Special Victims Bureau (which prosecutes those  involved in child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and elder abuse), she also has been instrumental in the  DA's Conviction Integrity Program, which seeks to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.

Her nomination has the support of numerous law enforcement individuals and organizations, including Robert Morgenthau (former DA of Manhattan), Raymond Flynn (New York City's Police Commissioner), the National District Attorneys Association, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and New York Women in Law Enforcement.

The best judges understand keenly how the law affects ordinary people. Halligan has worked to help  economically disadvantaged families throughout her career. Even before law school, she worked at Georgians for Children, a statewide public policy organization that focuses on issues related to impoverished children and families. Over the years, she has engaged in pro bono work and community service projects that focus on families with the greatest needs. For example, she represented victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who were at risk of losing their housing assistance.

In its 120-year history, the DC Circuit has had a grand total of five women judges. Halligan clerked for  the first of those, trailblazer Patricia Wald, and she would be the sixth if confirmed. The National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the National Center for Women and Policing, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce are just some of the women's organizations that are supporting her nomination.

Halligan has received the highest possible rating of her qualifications from a unanimous panel of the ABA’s nonpartisan Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. She has also received the strong support of a bipartisan group of renowned appellate advocates, including Miguel Estrada (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and former nominee to this same court), Seth Waxman (Solicitor General under President Clinton), Carter Phillips (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President Reagan), and Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General under President Clinton).

A nominee with such sterling credentials and strong support from a broad range of the legal community is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

The seat to which Halligan has been nominated has been vacant since 2005. In fact, the 11-member DC Circuit has lost three additional active judges since 2008. None of those judges has been replaced. Not surprisingly, this has had a serious impact on the caseload for the judges who are left. The Senate’s confirmation of George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith to the eleventh seat in 2005 resulted in there being approximately 121 pending cases per active judge. When the Senate debated Halligan’s nomination in 2011, that number had climbed to about 146 pending cases per active judge. Last month, with Judge Sentelle taking senior status, that number has now increased to about 188 cases per active judge, according to the most recent data on pending cases made available by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Caitlin Halligan has excelled throughout her career. With yet another vacancy opening up on the DC Circuit just last month, the need for someone of her caliber on the bench is greater than ever before. Her nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and she should be confirmed to the DC Circuit.

Sincerely,

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program
People For the American Way

Paul Gordon
Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
 

PFAW

Five Reasons the Senate Should Confirm Caitlin Halligan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will ask the Senate to vote this week on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
PFAW

Why It's Important to Have Diversity on the Federal Courts

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about President Obama's successful push to bring greater diversity to the federal courts. The story quoted a conservative activist who accused the White House of "lowering their standards" in order to find diverse nominees and a Republican aide who claimed that the White House's focus on diversity would "override the substantive qualifications of the nominees."

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, responded with the following letter to the editor:

To the editor:

Regarding the March 3 story, “Obama pushing to diversify federal judiciary amid GOP delays.”

One of President Obama’s most significant, but least noticed, achievements has been his effort to bring more women and people of color to the federal bench. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court showed us just how critical that effort is.

In oral arguments on Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the renewal of voting protections for people of color simply amounts to a “racial entitlement.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court, promptly contradicted him.

Scalia’s arrogant dismissal is echoed by the conservative activist who tells the Post that the White House may be “lowering their standards” in nominating women and people of color and the  GOP aide who worries that a focus on diversity would “override the substantive qualifications of the nominees.”

President Obama hasn’t had to choose between qualified nominees and diverse ones. Instead, he’s chosen judges and justices like Sotomayor: excellent nominees from diverse backgrounds, all of whom have earned their way to judgeships for which they are eminently qualified. 

LESLIE WATSON MALACHI
DIRECTOR, AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY

PFAW

Extremist Gun Owners of America Goes to Bat Against D.C. Circuit Nominee

Gun Owners of America, a fringe group that hovers to the right of the National Rifle Association, is wading into the debate over Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama's nominees to the hugely influential DC Circuit Court of Appeals. GOA's beef with Halligan is that when she was solicitor general of New York, she represented the state in its suit against gun manufacturers – a position she took for a client rather than one she espoused herself.

In an action alert today, GOA asks its members to call on their senators to oppose Halligan, calling her the “most anti-Second Amendment nominee in recent history,” a “zealot” and a “radical leftist.”

Among those who might disagree with GOA’s assessment of Halligan are former Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, Reagan administration attorney Carter Phillips, and numerous law enforcement groups, all of whom have endorsed her nomination.

But the GOA’s extreme language should come as no surprise. After all, this is the same group that speculated that the Aurora movie theater shooting was an inside job, said that armed citizens could have stopped the Holocaust, claimed that the Affordable Care Act would “take away your guns,” and warned President Obama that he should “remember King George III’s experience.” Recently, GOA president Larry Pratt has gone even further, agreeing with theories that President Obama is raising a black army to massacre white Americans and that the president intends to pit “Christian, heterosexual white haves” against “black Muslim and/or atheist…have-nots.”

Orrin Hatch Votes Present: Obstruction By Another Name

Orrin Hatch is exhibit A in the abuse of Senate rules to block President Obama’s nominees.
PFAW

PFAW Commends President for Standing Up For Stalled Judicial Nominees

WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for re-nominating the 33 federal judicial nominees the Senate failed to confirm in the last Congress, and urged the Senate to act quickly to confirm all 33.

“The president is sending a strong message to the new Senate about the importance of ending the judicial vacancy crisis,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “It is imperative that the Senate work with the  White House to confirm qualified nominees to our federal courts and put an end to the obstruction that has denied too many Americans timely access to justice. These nominees could and should have been confirmed last year. There is no excuse for delaying their confirmations any longer.”

One third of the 33 nominees that the president sent to the Senate were approved by the Judiciary Committee last year but were stalled by Republicans on the Senate floor. Others were awaiting hearings or votes in committee. One, D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan, was first nominated by the president to fill a vacancy on this critically important court more than two years ago. 

The nominations sent back to the Senate reflect President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench. 25 of the 33  nominees sent to the Senate today are women or people of color.


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PFAW Calls for Senate Votes on All Remaining Judicial Nominees, Including Four Long-Pending Circuit Court Nominees

WASHINGTON --  In the wake of yesterday’s Senate confirmation of  two long-pending federal district court nominees, People For the American Way urged lawmakers to commit to holding votes on all remaining district and circuit court nominees before the end of the year. While Senate Democrats have broken through Republican gridlock to hold votes on 10 pending district court nominees in the past few weeks, the future of nine district court and four circuit court nominees remains uncertain.

Yesterday, Fernando M. Olguin was confirmed to the US District Court for the Central District of California and Thomas M. Durkin was confirmed to the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Both were forced to wait over four months for a vote from the full Senate, even though there had been no substantive objections to their nominations. Both will fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. And both would have been confirmed in September if Republicans had not blocked Democratic efforts to schedule a simple yes-or-no vote.

“It’s encouraging to see that Senate Republicans are finally allowing votes on long-pending, uncontroversial district court nominees,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “But the fact that Republicans consider it a concession to Democrats to finally stop blocking votes on such nominees symbolizes how broken the Senate is and shows where responsibility for the problem lies.  Four federal circuit court nominees, all highly qualified and supported by their home-state senators, have been waiting as long as nine months for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. With Election Day behind us and the end of this Congress fast approaching, it is imperative that these nominees be confirmed. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for Senate Republican stalling tactics that are leaving our courts under-staffed and denying justice to countless Americans.”

Circuit court nominees awaiting Senate votes are Patty Shwartz of New Jersey, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, William Kayatta of Maine and Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto.

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Still No Explanation From Grassley on Judiciary Committee Delays

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved five nominees to serve on federal district courts in New York, California and Florida and on the US Court of International Trade. A week ago, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley postponed votes on all five nominations without giving a reason, a delaying tactic that he has used on 97 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who the committee has voted on.

Sen. Grassley did not explain the reason for the delay last week, when a coalition of Iowa and national groups urged him to stop such routine delays. And the reason remained unclear today, as all five nominees were approved without opposition.

These five nominees now join fifteen other federal judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes from the full Senate. The Senate has made progress by scheduling confirmation votes on four unopposed district court nominees in the past week, but that small amount of progress isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps in overworked federal courts. Seven of the nominees still waiting for votes would fill officially-designated “judicial emergencies.”

It would be easy, of course, for the Senate to hold votes on all of the remaining nominees before the end of the year. After all, most were approved by the Judiciary Committee many months ago. But Senate Republicans have continued to stall even nominees with strong bipartisan support. All the circuit court nominees waiting for votes have the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic, and nearly all of the pending district court nominees were approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or nearly unanimous bipartisan support. One circuit court nominee, New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz, has been waiting nine months just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate; Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto has also been waiting since March.

If the Senate fails to vote on these nominees during the lame duck, the confirmation process – from presidential nomination through floor vote – will have to start all over again next year.

Notable about the district court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee today is that all are women or people of color, representative of President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal courts. The nominees also include New York’s Pamela Chen, who would become just the fifth openly gay person to be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship.

PFAW

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 Commends White House on PA Judicial Nominees, Urges Toomey to Press GOP Leadership for Swift Confirmations

Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for nominating three qualified Pennsylvanians to seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The three nominees, Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro, Luis Felipe Restrepo, and Jeffrey L. Schmehl, continue the gender and ethnic diversity that President Obama has brought to the federal courts. Two of the three are of Hispanic heritage, and one, Quiñones, would become the first openly gay Hispanic federal judge. Notably, the professional diversity of these nominees is also significant. Restrepo’s and Schmehl’s professional careers include time as public defenders and Quiñones’s background includes work with a community legal services program.

“These nominees are emblematic of the president’s commitment to nominating qualified, diverse nominees to the federal bench,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “They are also a sign of the president’s commitment to solving the vacancy crisis in our federal courts without delay. One week after his reelection, the president nominated seven Americans to fill district and circuit court vacancies. Today, he has taken an important step in tackling the longstanding vacancy crisis in Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania’s federal courts currently have eight vacancies. Two nominees for seats considered “judicial emergencies” have been waiting over four months for confirmation votes from the Senate, despite the stated support of their home-state senators.

“It took far too long for Quiñones, Restrepo and Schmehl to be nominated for long-vacant seats on Pennsylvania’s courts, through the process set up by Senators Casey and Toomey,” added Baker. “And there are still three vacancies on the Eastern District yet to be filled. It is critical that the senators act expeditiously to send recommendations to the White House for these three remaining seats so that Pennsylvanians have access to fully functioning federal courts. It is also taking far too long for the Senate to confirm the two pending Pennsylvania Middle District nominees, because of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Sen. Toomey must stand up to his Republican leadership and urge them to allow confirmation votes on the 19 nominees who have spent as long as eight months languishing on the Senate floor.”

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