Coburn to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee: Do your Jobs! (Updated)

Updated 4/11/08, from Curt Levy of the Committee for Justice: Seven GOP senators took to the Senate floor this morning to denounce the obstruction of judicial nominees by their Democratic colleagues and to put the Democrats on notice of the price they will pay if the obstruction continues. After “Republicans slammed Leahy at a committee meeting last week,” today’s “threat marked the next phase in the growing election-year battle over the judiciary, an issue that Republicans hope will energize conservatives eager to see more of Bush’s nominees confirmed to the bench,” reported The Hill…Here are excerpts of the GOP senators’ remarks:

Sen. Arlen Specter:

There is a growing movement in the Republican caucus to hold up legislation if we cannot move in any other way to get justice on the confirmation of these judges.

Sen. Sam Brownback:

I think you’re going to see people start to jam the body down and say that, unless we start approving some circuit court judges, business isn’t going to happen around here.

It may come to a complete standstill if we don’t start getting some judges. … The majority party can choose to go that route. … We are really going to have a big debate then across the country on that. Meanwhile, the whole nation just wants us to get the work done and we’re not getting it done because judges aren’t being approved.

Sen. John Cornyn:

This immediate need for judicial confirmations is especially true for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. … The Fourth Circuit is currently operating without a third of its judges. The Washington Post observed that ‘the Senate should act in good faith to fill vacancies – not as a favor to the president but out of respect for the residents, businesses, defendants and victims of crime in the region the 4th Circuit covers.’

Sen. Orrin Hatch:

The majority has stalled judicial confirmation votes longer this year than in any presidential election year since 1848. … The last time the Senate waited this long in a presidential election year to confirm federal judges, James Polk, the 11th President, was in the White House.

Since I was first elected, there have been seven Congresses like this one that included a presidential election year. During each of these presidential election Congresses, the Judiciary Committee held hearings for an average of 25 appeals court nominees. But today, more than fifteen months into the 110th Congress, the Judiciary Committee has held a hearing for only five appeals court nominees.

The current Judiciary Committee chairman in the past often insisted that 1992 provides the standard for judicial confirmation progress. Like today, his party controlled the Senate and a President Bush was in the White House. By this time that year, by April 10, 1992, the Senate had already confirmed 25 nominees to the federal bench. It does not look like the Senate will confirm 25 judicial nominees for the entire rest of the year.

Sen. Mitch McConnell:

The Judiciary Committee has held only one hearing on one circuit court nominee since last September. … It’s not as if the Committee has been otherwise occupied. This is another week in which the Committee could have held a hearing, for example, on the qualified nominees to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but it again chose not to do so. These nominees meet the Chairman’s own criteria for prompt consideration. Nevertheless, they have been inexplicably languishing in the Committee for hundreds of days without a hearing while the Fourth Circuit is one-third vacant.

We were told that having the support of home-state senators ‘means a great deal and points toward the kind of qualified consensus nominee that can be quickly confirmed.’ But it’s beginning to look like this criterion is being selectively applied: it’s readily used as a reason not to move a nominee – coincidentally, when the nominee is from a state with a Democratic Senator – but it’s ignored when the nominee has the support of two Republican Senators.

Sen. Tom Coburn (including his written statement and remarks on the floor):

The Chairman’s unwillingness to even hold hearings on numerous judicial nominees is a gross dereliction of duty. It is disappointing that the committee is putting election year partisan politics ahead of its constitutional duty to give ‘advice and consent’ to the president’s judicial nominees.

If Senators can find time to attend fundraisers, process thousands of earmark requests and be guests on talk shows they can find time to do the job they were elected to do, and are required to do under our Constitution.

I’m reminded of the fact that the majority had problems with four of President Bush’s nominees starting in January [2007]…In a gesture of good will, he withdrew four nominees that … although they were well-qualified, they weren’t acceptable [to Democrats] … It’s time for the Senate to make good on promises. It’s time for it to reciprocate on what President Bush did in terms of withdrawing the four nominees.

Chairman Leahy’s treatment of Fourth Circuit nominee Robert Conrad, who has been pending for more than 250 days, is a case study in mindless partisanship and baseless obstruction. Last week, when I asked Chairman Leahy why this nominee has been delayed he accused Judge Conrad of making ‘anti-Catholic’ statements. Chairman Leahy’s stunning accusation against a nominee who happens to be Catholic underscores the urgency of giving Judge Conrad the courtesy of a prompt hearing and fair vote. … If Senator Leahy has concerns about Judge Conrad’s qualifications he should present those in the context of a confirmation hearing, where the nominee will have an opportunity to respond.

Senator Jon Kyl:

The judicial conference says that many of these [vacancies] are judicial emergencies, meaning that we have vacancies in the circuit that need to be filled because there aren’t enough judges to do the people’s business. I mean, we should do it because we should do it; it’s our responsibility. But even if you only look at it from a political standpoint, the reality is that if this tradition is broken of 15, 16, 17 judges in the last two years of an administration, then, clearly, we’re going to devolve into a situation where, for political purposes, the party in power decides not to … even having votes on the nominees of the President. And that is a very, very bad thing.

Peter Keisler, who has been pending the longest. He’s been pending for almost two years. In fact he was nominated to the District of Columbia circuit court in June of 2006 and received a hearing in August of that year. He is widely regarded as well-qualified, fair-minded, and has received support from all over the political spectrum. … The American Bar Association has rated him unanimously well-qualified. You cannot get a higher rating than that. The Washington Post – no particular friend of this administration – editorialized in favor of Keisler describing him as a highly qualified nominee who certainly warrants confirmation.


Original Article, 4/10/08: U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released the following statement today regarding the Senate Judiciary Committee’s abysmal record of providing “advice and consent” on judicial nominees in the 110th Congress:

The Chairman’s unwillingness to even hold hearings on numerous judicial nominees is a gross dereliction of duty. It is disappointing that the committee is putting election year partisan politics ahead of its constitutional duty to give ‘advice and consent’ to the president’s judicial nominees. These delays are a transparent and political attempt to run out the clock on President Bush’s term.

Chairman Leahy’s treatment of Fourth Circuit nominee Robert Conrad, who has been pending for more than 250 days, is a case study in mindless partisanship and baseless obstruction. Last week, when I asked Chairman Leahy why this nominee has been delayed he accused Judge Conrad of making ‘anti-Catholic’ statements. Chairman Leahy’s stunning accusation against a nominee who happens to be Catholic underscores the urgency of giving Judge Conrad the courtesy of a prompt hearing and fair vote.

Moreover, Judge Conrad has the support of both of his home state senators. He has been rated unanimously well-qualified by the American Bar Association, and he was previously confirmed as a district judge after voice vote approval by both the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. Also, the Fourth Circuit seat to which he has been nominated has been deemed a judicial emergency. If Senator Leahy has concerns about Judge Conrad’s qualifications he should present those in the context of a confirmation hearing, where the nominee will have an opportunity to respond.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has no excuse for its delays. The Senate has ample time to consider these nominations. We are in session only three and a half days a week. We spend much of our time in procedural quorum calls rather than debating legislation. In short, if Senators can find time to attend fundraisers, process thousands of earmark requests and be guests on talk shows they can find time to do the job they were elected to do, and are required to do under our Constitution.

Some facts on judicial confirmations:

  • A Republican Senate confirmed 15 circuit court judges and 57 district court judges in President Clinton’s final two years.
  • Thus far in this Congress, the Senate has confirmed only 6 of President Bush’s circuit court nominees and 34 district court nominees.
  • The Committee has held only one hearing for one circuit court nominee since September 25, 2007, over six months ago. And, the Committee has only held two hearings that included a total of 6 district court nominees since November 1, 2007, over five months ago.
  • Further, the Committee held hearings for only four circuit court nominees in all of last year.
  • Last week, Judiciary Committee Republicans made the case for judicial nominees during the weekly Executive Business Meeting. Yet, this week’s schedule contains no full-Committee hearings, nor does it contain an Executive Business Meeting.

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