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 – Senate Republicans today refused to allow a vote on 17 pending federal district court nominees before leaving for recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid requested unanimous consent to take up and confirm all 17 district court nominations on the calendar. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused, despite the fact that most of the nominees have strong bipartisan support and some have been waiting as long as five months for a Senate vote. Twelve of the pending nominees would fill seats that the Administrative Office of the US Courts has declared “judicial emergencies.”
There is strong precedent for the Senate confirming district court nominees before the end of a President’s term in office. In September of 2008, the Senate confirmed President Bush’s ten remaining district court nominees by unanimous consent one day after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.
“Under the leadership of Sen. McConnell, Senate Republicans have taken obstruction to a new level,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Never before have district court nominees been subject to this amount of partisan obstruction. Democrats have been forced to file cloture petitions to break filibusters on 20 of President Obama’s district court nominees, compared to just one each under Presidents Bush and Clinton. President Obama’s district court nominees have had to wait three times as long as President Bush’s just for an up-or-down vote. This has nothing to do with the quality of the nominees -- once they reach a vote, the vast majority have been approved nearly unanimously. Indeed, most of the 17 nominees that the GOP rejected today were approved with bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. All have had the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic.
“This obstruction has nothing to do with the nominees and everything to do with the GOP’s desire to obstruct Senate business at all costs. These costs can be seen in the twelve judicial emergencies that remain vacant because of this obstructionism. Senators Reid and Leahy are right to prioritize the confirmation of these nominees. Backlogs in the courts are ultimately passed down to Americans seeking justice. Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP must stop playing political games with our courts.”
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.