Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy spoke at Georgetown University Law Center this morning, where he had been invited to discuss the committee's priorities for the 113th Congress. His prepared remarks noted the importance of ending the obstruction of qualified judicial nominees that characterized the past four years:
Like Chief Justice Roberts, I believe the extraordinarily high number of extended judicial vacancies has to end. The Judiciary Committee will continue to work to fill these vacancies, many unnecessarily perpetuated, which threaten our justice system.
However, he departed from his prepared remarks at this point, and it was clear how important he recognizes the issue to be:
Those who would block judges from coming up even for a vote – I'll say this: Vote yes, or vote no, but when you block them, you're voting maybe. What. An. Irresponsible. Lazy. Thing. To. Do.
Later, when asked about rules reform, he brought up judicial nominations as the "best example" of abuse of the rules:
Dozens and dozens and dozens of judicial nominees get held for month after month after month. You know, they've been nominated, they've gone through the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously – basically having to shut down their law practice because they're going to become a federal judge – and then for months and months and months they're in this limbo because we can't bring it to a vote.
And then when we finally do bring it to a vote, they get 95 votes, 98 votes, out of 100.
No. This is allowing people to vote "maybe," not yes or no. If you really feel strongly about an issue, sure, come on the floor our rules allow you to debate it. But on some of these things – on most of these things – I don't find anybody who feels that strongly about it they're willing to stand up and explain to the American public on C-Span and in the Congressional Record "here's why I'm opposing it," because usually their reasons do not stand the light of day.
Indeed, what good reason could Republicans possibly give for blocking votes on nominees who everyone supports? They're not going to stand up and admit that the nominees' only offense is having been nominated by a Democratic president. So they just withhold the unanimous consent needed to schedule a confirmation vote and hope that the public doesn't notice.