Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that one of the key focuses of the Senate’s next five weeks of work will be “clearing the backlog of judicial nominees that threatens the effectiveness of our justice system.”
Reid’s announcement is important for several reasons. Because of unyielding Republican obstructionism, Senate Democrats have been unable to schedule confirmation votes on all but a few federal judicial nominees in the past several months. This situation had created a backlog of nominees waiting for Senate votes and a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, where about one in ten seats is vacant.
The reason why it’s been so hard for Democrats to schedule votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees is that the Senate GOP has in the past few years taken full advantage of all the tools of obstruction that it has available. The Senate has to have unanimous consent to schedule an up-or-down vote – something that in the past has been routinely granted to judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have been refusing to grant votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little to no Republican opposition -- effectively filibustering dozens upon dozens of nominees. Only after months of delay are the votes finally allowed. Last week, Senate Democrats made it clear that they’d had enough and filed cloture to end the filibusters of two of the nominees – each of whom was subsequently confirmed in overwhelming numbers.
That’s right: Senate Republicans haven’t just been obstructing nominees who they find fault with – they’ve been obstructing everybody. President Obama’s nominees have been forced to wait an average of 100 days after committee approval just to get a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency was 24 days.
This afternoon, senators voted on the nomination of Margo K. Brodie, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern New York. Although she was unopposed in the Judiciary Committee, Brodie has waited for more than four months for her nomination to be voted on. She was approved on a vote of 86 to 2.
There are now nineteen judicial nominees still waiting for a Senate vote, most of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition. Ten of them have been waiting three months or more from a vote, and ten have been nominated to fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the twenty are women or people of color and one is an openly gay man.
Sen. Reid is doing the right thing in calling out Republicans on their obstructionism and ensuring that our courts continue to be fair and functioning.
The Senate today confirmed Jesse Furman to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, over five months after his nomination was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. The vote came after the GOP quietly ended its five-month filibuster of Furman’s nomination, which was all but unheard of for an unopposed district court nominee.
President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited an average of 91 days for an up-or-down vote from the Senate after being approved by the Judiciary Committee. For President Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency, the average wait was 23 days. The Senate GOP was roundly criticized last week for obstructing the nomination of Circuit Court nominee Adalberto Jordan, who was confirmed in a 94-5 vote after four months of delay.
“Americans across the board are fed up with Republicans in Congress,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “Watching the Senate GOP’s charade around judicial nominees, there’s no wonder why. Republicans in the Senate filibustered Adalberto Jordan, a consensus pick for a judicial emergency on the 11th Circuit and the first Cuban American on the court, for four months – and once their filibuster was broken, stalled him for two more days for absolutely no reason. Then, they filibustered Jesse Furman, an unopposed district court nominee who has been waiting over five months for a vote, but at the last minute backed down.
“The GOP backed down under pressure from Americans who expect better of their elected officials. Republicans in the Senate should stop the obstruction charade altogether and allow up-or-down votes on the remaining 20 nominees on the calendar.”
Earlier this week, Senate Republicans were harshly criticized for filibustering a highly qualified Cuban American with no committee opposition nominated for a seat on the Eleventh Circuit. Yesterday, they doubled down and set their sights on an unopposed district court nominee, Jesse Furman of New York. As we noted yesterday, the absurdity of the move cannot be overstated. The Senate GOP wasn’t just moving the goalposts, they were moving the entire football field.
It appears that the barrage of deserved criticism they received for this outrageous escalation in their war against the American judiciary has had an effect: It was just announced that the cloture petition will be vitiated (i.e., withdrawn). More than five months after Furman was approved without opposition by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will finally get his day on the Senate floor. In turn, assuming he is confirmed, more New Yorkers will get their day in court.
This is a victory for every American who wants to protect our nation’s judicial system.
And the bipartisan cooperation keeps rolling on. This week, the Senate confirmed Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan to a seat on the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. A visitor from another country might not have appreciated the proportions of this achievement, given the fact that Jordan, who was born in Cuba and who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, had no discernible opposition.
But Americans ought to have a better grasp of how the Senate works. The nomination’s progress had long been thwarted by Mike Lee, a freshman Republican from Utah, who has decided to hold up every single White House appointment to anything out of pique over ... well, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re a senator, you get to do that kind of thing.
This forced the majority leader, Harry Reid, to get 60 votes to move Judge Jordan forward, which is never all that easy. Then there was further delay thanks to Rand Paul, a freshman from Kentucky, who stopped action for as long as possible because he was disturbed about foreign aid to Egypt.
All that is forgotten now. The nomination was approved, 94 to 5, only 125 days after it was unanimously O.K.’d by the Judiciary Committee. Whiners in the White House pointed out that when George W. Bush was president, circuit court nominations got to a floor vote in an average of 28 days.
No matter. Good work, Senate! Only 17 more long-pending judicial nominations to go!
Senate Republicans – already being condemned for their unprecedented obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support – today responded to that criticism by escalating their partisan obstruction to even more extremes. Today, after finally overcoming the four-month obstruction of an unopposed circuit court nominee, Senate Democrats were forced to file cloture on the nomination of an unopposed district court nominee, one who worked for and has the support of Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey: Jesse Furman, nominated to the Southern District of New York.
It would be hard to overstate just how absurd this is. When George W. Bush was president, Democrats routinely approved District Court nominees, frequently without even a recorded vote.
Adding to the absurdity of the filibuster, Republicans have given no reason to vote against Furman's confirmation. He is a respected lawyer who has devoted his legal career to public service, serving under both Democratic and Republican administrations. After law school, he clerked for Justice David Souter, Judge Michael Mukasey (a Reagan nominee to the Southern District of New York) and José A. Cabranes (a Clinton nomine to the Second Circuit). He worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York during the George W. Bush Administration. For two years during that time, he was detailed to work as Counselor to Mukasey, who had by then become Attorney General under President Bush. In 2009, he returned to the Southern District of New York to become Deputy Chief Appellate Attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office.
One might think Mukasey's strong support for the nomination would give Republicans reason not to filibuster. He wrote this of Furman: "All I can hope to add is my own belief that he is a person to whom one can entrust decisions that are consequential to the lives of people and to the general welfare of the populace, with confidence that they will be made wisely and fairly ... and I urge that he be confirmed."
Mukasey is not alone. The ABA has analyzed his record and found him qualified. A unanimous Judiciary Committee agreed.
There are currently six judicial vacancies in the Southern District of New York. Furman's nomination to fill one of those vacancies has been pending on the Senate floor for five months now.
This latest filibuster is an outrage. Republicans haven't just moved the goal posts. They've moved the entire stadium. The American people deserve so much better than this.
The Senate this afternoon finally confirmed Judge Adalberto José Jordán to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Jordán becomes the first Cuban American to join the 11th Circuit – an important victory for Florida’s large Cuban American population.
What wasn’t a victory for Cuban Americans, or for any Americans seeking justice in the desperately overworked 11th Circuit, was the long and frustrating process that led to Judge Jordán’s confirmation. Despite being a highly qualified nominee with broad bipartisan support, the GOP filibustered Jordán’s nomination for four months, only to vote overwhelmingly in his favor when the filibuster came to a vote. And once the filibuster was finally broken, one Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a little-used rule to postpone the final vote on Jordán another two days to push a completely unrelated policy priority.
In the Washington Post yesterday, columnist Dana Milbank wrote that the Jordán filibuster reflects the GOP’s puzzling indifference to Latino voters:
Jordan is the very picture of the American dream: Born in Cuba, he fled with his parents to the United States at age six and went on to become a lawyer and clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With the support of his home-state senator, Republican Marco Rubio (Fla.), a fellow Cuban American, Jordan was nominated to become the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
There is no serious objection to his confirmation — which makes the hazing he has experienced all the more inexplicable. Republicans slow-walked his nomination (he was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee in July), then filibustered his confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Even when the filibuster was broken Monday night (by a lopsided 89-5), a lone Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a procedural hurdle to postpone the confirmation vote by two days, to Wednesday.
Congressional staffers I checked with couldn’t recall a similar instance of blocking a confirmation even after a filibuster had failed. This would seem to be a unique humiliation for a man hailed by the Hispanic National Bar Association because of “the positive message this nomination sends to the Latino community.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney began his press briefing today by pointing out the absurdity of the Senate GOP’s persistent stalling of the president’s judicial nominees, most recently 11th Circuit nominee Adalberto Jordán.
Jordán is a consensus nominee supported by both of his home-state senators – Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson – and if confirmed will become the first Cuban American to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over the largest Cuban American population in the country. What’s more, the seat he has been nominated to fill has been officially designated a judicial emergency.
Despite his qualifications, bipartisan support, and the historic import of the nomination, the GOP filibustered Jordán’s nomination for four months. After the Senate finally voted to end the filibuster last night Jordán’s nomination was held up once more for reasons having nothing to do with him or with the people of Florida, Georgia and Alabama. One senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, used an obscure rule to take Jordán’s nomination hostage to promote a bill curtailing foreign aid to Egypt.
Carney told the press:
Before I get started, I wanted to make note, if I could, of a development in the Senate. As you may know, but may not, the Senate is soon scheduled to confirm Adalberto Jordán, our nominee for the 11th Circuit. Jordán is a current, well-respected District Court judge, supported by Senators Nelson and Rubio, and he was reported unanimously out by the Judiciary Committee months ago. And he will now be the first Cuban American on the 11th Circuit.
Despite his sterling credentials and the bipartisan support that he enjoys, Republicans filibustered this nomination. To overcome the filibuster, Leader Reid had to file cloture, a procedure that while once extraordinary is now commonplace out of necessity. Cloture was invoked last night, 89 to 5, but Republicans are still forcing the Senate to burn time in a blatant delay tactic. Leader Reid had to go through extraordinary measures to get a judge confirmed with no Republican opposition, and a seat he will fill is a judicial emergency seat.
Now, the reason why I raise this, even though Mr. Jordán will be confirmed, is that it is so indicative of a breakdown in the system when a nominee as highly qualified as he is, with bipartisan support as he has, who's reported out of committee unanimously, still faces filibusters. And you have to ask yourself why that is. It's just simply delay tactics, and they're shameful.
There are 17 other judicial nominations pending on the Senate calendar; 14 were reported out unanimously; seven of those would fill judicial emergencies and seven are represented by at least one Republican senator. And yet the delay tactics continue.
With that, I will take your questions. Hello.
The Senate today voted 89-5 to end a GOP filibuster of the nomination of Adalberto José Jordán to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, only to be met with another shameless Republican delaying tactic. Despite the overwhelming vote in favor of ending the filibuster on Jordán, one GOP senator invoked a “post-cloture period,” which will force the Senate to wait another 30 hours before taking a final vote on the nomination.
Once he is confirmed, Jordán will become the first Cuban American to sit on the 11th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Jordán, who has been a federal district court judge in Florida since 1999, has the full support of his home-state senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, and was approved unanimously by Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. An ABA panel unanimously gave him its highest rating of “well qualified.” Yet despite unquestioned qualifications and overwhelming bipartisan support, Jordán was forced to wait four months for a vote after he was approved without objection by the Judiciary Committee.
“No wonder Americans think Washington is broken,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “The Senate GOP, presented with an impeccably qualified nominee for a judicial vacancy that desperately needs to be filled, insisted on trying to block the nomination. They chose to filibuster for four months a nominee to whom they had no objection, and then, even after an overwhelming vote to end the filibuster, added another needless delay.
“In filibustering Jordán’s historic nomination all these months, the GOP is pointedly ignoring the glowing endorsement of one of its own members, Sen. Marco Rubio, and the support of Florida’s Cuban American community, for whom this nomination is a historic first. This is a party that is putting gridlock above all else – and the American people are noticing. Now it is time for the Senate to put obstruction aside and confirm Jordán and the other 17 highly qualified nominees who have cleared the committee and are awaiting a vote.”
As Paul wrote earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has schedule a vote on Monday to break the GOP filibuster of Adalberto Jordán, a Florida judge nominated to fill a judicial emergency on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. If confirmed, Jordan would be the first Cuban American judge on the 11th Circuit, which oversees Florida, the home of the United States’ largest Cuban American population.
What’s most notable about this vote is that it’s happening at all.
Traditionally, nominees like Jordán – who has the support of both his home-state senators, a Republican and a Democrat, and who was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee – would be swiftly confirmed, not be filibustered by the minority party.
But the Senate GOP hasn’t been so fond of Senate tradition, or efficient management, when it comes to confirming President Obama’s nominees. Instead, the GOP is filibustering Jordán and sixteen other nominees, the vast majority of whom have broad bipartisan support.
Below is an updated chart comparing how long each nominee on the Senate calendar has been waiting for an up-or-down vote, compared to the average wait time for Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency.
The difference is striking:
The Senate GOP has been doing everything it can to gum up the works of the Senate – even when it means causing a four month delay for a widely-admired, bipartisan, historic nominee for a seat that has been designated a “judicial emergency.”
The pressure is now on Sen. Marco Rubio, a new favorite in the GOP, to convince his fellow Republican senators to put aside politics and confirm Jordán.
To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: February 10, 2012
Re: Why is the Senate GOP Filibustering the First Cuban American Nominee to the Eleventh Circuit Court, Florida’s Adalberto José Jordán?
Florida District Court Judge Adalberto José Jordán has been waiting four months for the U.S. Senate to approve his nomination to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On Monday, the Senate will hold a vote to break the Republican filibuster of Jordán’s nomination, a step that is traditionally taken only when the minority party has significant objections to the nominee’s qualifications.
So why is the GOP filibustering Jordán?
They have stated no reason, which leads to the natural conclusion that stalling Jordán’s nomination is just part of their larger effort to create gridlock in Washington. In the process, they have kept a highly-qualified jurist – one who is wholeheartedly supported by both Florida senators, including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio – from becoming the Eleventh Circuit’s first Cuban American judge and filling an urgent vacancy in the federal courts.
In October, Sen. Rubio praised Jordán to the Judiciary Committee, saying, "I think his experience and his resume will speak for itself. ... As a community, we're very proud of Judge Jordán's nomination and we look forward to his appointment."
Jordán immigrated from Cuba when he was six and is the quintessential American success story. After graduating from the University of Miami Law School, Jordán clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and became a federal prosecutor. Since 1999, he has served ably as a federal district court judge in Miami, where he has presided over nearly 200 trials on a wide range of civil and criminal matters.
He received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and the Judiciary Committee members who reviewed his record agreed, voting unanimously to advance his nomination.
If confirmed, Jordán would become the first Cuban American to sit on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. What’s more, the Eleventh Circuit desperately needs this vacancy filled, so much so that the Administrative Office of the United States Court has formally declared it a judicial emergency. In other words, there are so many cases and so few judges that Floridians, Georgians and Alabamans are facing unnecessary delays as they seek their day in court.
Jordán’s nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor since October 13. That was four months ago. Republicans have absolutely no excuse for this latest obstruction and should allow a simple up-or-down vote on his nomination, as well as the 17 others still awaiting votes.
With Republican obstruction of qualified consensus judicial nominees showing no sign of abating, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed cloture on the nomination of Adalberto José Jordán to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote to break the Republican filibuster is scheduled for Monday at 5:30.
Jordán is one of the 18 nominees stuck pending on the Senate floor because Republicans refuse to allow a yes-or-no vote to be scheduled. He received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association, with a unanimous panel finding him well qualified. Judiciary Committee members who looked over his record agreed, voting unanimously to advance his nomination.
Senator Marco Rubio – Jordán's home state senator and a fellow Cuban American – strongly supports the nomination. As he told the committee, "I think his experience and his resume will speak for itself. ... As a community, we're very proud of Judge Jordán's nomination and we look forward to his appointment."
Jordán immigrated from Cuba when he was six and is the quintessential American success story. Since 1999, he has served ably as a federal district court judge in Miami, where he has presided over nearly 200 trials on a wide range of civil and criminal matters.
The Circuit that he would join desperately needs this vacancy filled, so much so that the Administrative Office of the United States Court has formally declared it a judicial emergency. In other words, there are so many cases and so few judges that Americans are not able to get their day in court.
This nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor since October 13. That was four months ago. Republicans have absolutely no excuse for this latest obstruction. Hats off to Sen. Reid for "calling the question" on this critical nomination. Next we need to turn our attention to the other 17 nominees on the Senate's calendar and the other nominees who will be reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee despite the Republicans' efforts to slow walk nominations in Committee as well.
Before Senate Republicans graciously allowed a vote this afternoon on one of the 19 long-pending judicial nominations – just one, mind you – they did something this morning, that, unfortunately has become all too routine in their relentless efforts to slow-walk judicial nominations: They needlessly delayed committee votes on four additional highly qualified nominees. Republicans won't even let them advance to the floor to languish there, but are delaying them in committee for no reason.
As they have done for all but five of President Obama's judicial nominees, committee Republicans this morning exercised their option to "hold over" (i.e., delay) votes on judicial nominees. The routine use of this hold, without explanation, without regard to actual questions about the nominee, and almost without exception, is unprecedented. And while the delay, likely to be one week, is not by itself enormous, it has become a predictable component of the overall mechanism of obstruction that Senate Republicans have created to keep our nation's courtrooms from functioning effectively for the American people.
Three of the four vacant seats are judicial emergencies, and the three nominees from states with Republican senators have those senators' strong support.
As PFAW has written before:
No matter who the nominee is, no matter how qualified, no matter if confirmation is needed to address a judicial emergency, all the nominees [who are held over in committee] have something in common: They were nominated by a Democratic president, and that is all the reason Republicans need to obstruct the process and sabotage the judicial branch of the United States government.
So the fact that the bottleneck at the Senate floor didn't get worse today is hardly cause to celebrate.
The Senate today confirmed the nomination of Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, based in San Diego. The 90-6 vote highlighted the needlessness of the obstruction that caused Bencivengo to wait 126 days for consideration by the Senate after her unanimous approval by the Judiciary Committee.
Bencivengo will fill one of a dozen vacant federal court seats in California, and one of six that have been designated “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Bencivengo, who is currently a Magistrate Judge, received the highest rating from the American Bar Association and a glowing recommendation from Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
“The Senate’s confirmation of Judge Bencivengo brings a talented jurist to the federal bench, and is a step toward relieving the enormous caseload burden that has caused Southern Californians to face long delays as they seek their day in court,” said People For the American Way’s Marge Baker. “The judicial crisis in California, unfortunately, is not unique. The Senate GOP should immediately allow votes on the other eighteen highly-qualified nominees still on the calendar. Our Justice system is too important to be a pawn in partisan politics.”
Bencivengo’s confirmation leaves eighteen judicial nominees on the Senate’s calendar. The overwhelming majority have strong bipartisan support. Thirteen are women or people of color.
President Obama’s district court nominees have waited an average of 90 days after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate, in contrast to a mere 23 days for George W. Bush’s district court nominees at this point in his presidency.
In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama called for an end to the unprecedented obstruction of judicial and executive branch nominees.
In a move to ensure the functioning of an important consumer protection agency in the face of escalating GOP obstructionism, the White House announced that President Obama will install Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a recess appointment today.
Marge Baker of People For the American Way issued the following statement:
The Senate ended its 2011 session on Saturday, leaving 21 judicial nominees on its calendar. All but two of the abandoned nominees were supported by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee. Under none of the previous four presidents has the Senate left noncontroversial nominees without a vote at the end of a session.