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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, today the Senate will finally be allowed to vote on the nominations of Judge Mark Walker to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida and of Terrence Berg to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. It has taken far too long for this day to come but I congratulate these nominees and their families on their confirmations.

After this vote, the Senate remains backlogged with 20 judicial nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee, including 15 nominations from before the August recess. They should be confirmed before the Senate adjourns for the year. If the Senate were allowed to act in the best interests of the American people, it would vote to confirm these nominees and reduce the judicial vacancies that are plaguing our Federal courts.

Senate Republicans are establishing a new and harmful precedent of stalling judicial nominees on the Senate Executive Calendar who are ready for final action by insisting that they be delayed into the succeeding year. They held up judicial nominees three years ago, they did it two years ago, they did it last year, and they are doing it again. They have found a new way to employ their old trick of a pocket filibuster. They stall nominees into the next year and force the Senate to continue work on nominees from the past year for the first several months of the new year. They delay and delay and push other confirmations back in time and then cut off Senate consideration of any nominees.

By way of example, last December, Senate Republicans refused to confirm a single nominee before the end of the year. It then took us until May of the following year to confirm the 19 nominees they stalled from the previous year's Calendar, and we achieved that only after the Majority Leader was forced to file cloture on 17 nominees. The fact is that the Senate has been allowed to confirm only 19 nominees who were reported this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is by far the lowest total for a presidential election year since 1996, when Senate Republicans, who were then in the Majority, would only allow 17 of President Clinton's nominees to be confirmed.

These delays in filling judicial vacancies are harmful to our Nation's courts and to the American people they serve. The Senate should be taking action on all the pending nominees so that we can make real progress for the American people and reduce the damagingly high number of judicial vacancies. Federal judicial vacancies remain near 80. By this point in President Bush's first term we had reduced judicial vacancies to 28. There were more than 80 vacancies when the year began. There were more than 80 vacancies this past March when the Majority Leader was forced to take the extraordinary step of filing cloture petitions on 17 district court nominations. And there are still currently near 80 vacancies today.

Those who argue that it would be ``unprecedented'' to confirm long-stalled nominations because they have delayed them into this lameduck session are wrong. They say that because there were no lameduck confirmations in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, or 2008, we should therefore not confirm these nominees, and we should allow nearly a dozen judicial emergency vacancies to remain unfilled. They have omitted some important facts. What they fail to acknowledge is that they have delayed action on 17 of these nominees since before the August recess. In 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996--the first four of their purported examples--there were no lameduck sessions. Those are not precedents supporting their contentions seeking to justify their current obstruction.

In 2000 and 2008, in keeping with Senate tradition, the Senate had done its job and had confirmed all pending nominations and cleared the Calendar. There were no pending judicial nominees to be given a final confirmation vote by the Senate in those years. Those are not precedent for the current Republican obstruction. Following the example from those years would have meant confirming all the nominations reported before the August recess long before this post-election lame duck session.

The fact is that from 1980 until this year, when a lame duck session followed a presidential election, every single judicial nominee reported with bipartisan Judiciary Committee support has been confirmed. That is the precedent that Senate Republicans are now breaking. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, no consensus nominee reported prior to the August recess has ever been denied a vote--before now. That is something Senate Democrats have not done in any lameduck session, whether after a presidential or midterm election.

Senate Democrats allowed votes on 20 of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees, including three circuit court nominees, in the lameduck session after the elections in 2002. I remember, I was the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee who moved forward with those votes, including one on a very controversial circuit court nominee. The Senate proceeded to confirm judicial nominees in lame duck sessions after the elections in 2004 and 2006. In 2006 that included confirming another circuit court nominee. We proceeded to confirm 19 judicial nominees in the lame duck session after the elections in 2010, including five circuit court nominees.

That is our history and recent precedent. Those who contend that judicial confirmation votes during lame duck sessions do not take place are wrong. I urge them to reexamine the false premises for their contentions and I urge the Senate Republican leadership to reassess its damaging tactics. The new precedent they are creating is bad for the Senate, the Federal courts and, most importantly, for the American people.

Moreover, arguments about past Senate practices do not help fill longstanding vacancies on our Federal courts, which are in dire need of additional assistance. Arguments about past Senate practice do not help the American people obtain justice. There are no good reasons to hold up the judicial nominations being stalled on the Senate Executive Calendar. A wrongheaded desire for partisan payback for some imagined offense from years ago is no good reason. A continuing effort to gum up the workings of the Senate and to delay Senate action on additional judicial nominees next year is no good reason.

It is past time for votes on the four circuit nominees and the other 15 district court nominees reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee. When we have consensus nominees before us who can fill judicial vacancies, especially judicial emergency vacancies, it is our duty to the American people to take action on those nominations. Doing so is consistent with Senate precedent, and it is right. Let us do our jobs so that all Americans can have access to justice.

Today, we will vote on two consensus nominees who were stalled for months for no good reason, and are finally receiving a vote. Judge Walker is nominated to fill a judicial vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. He has served as a state court judge since 2009, and previously spent 10 years in private practice. After law school he clerked for Judge Emmett Ripley Cox on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and Judge Robert L. Hinkle on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The nonpartisan ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated him well qualified--its highest rating. Judge Walker's nomination has the bipartisan support of his home state Senators, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

Terrence Berg is nominated to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Since 2011, he has served on detail in the Professional Misconduct Review Unit, in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. He previously served as interim U.S. Attorney and First Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan and has received many awards for his service as a Federal prosecutor. After graduating from law school he clerked for the Honorable Anthony A. Alaimo in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, and has spent most of his career as a Federal prosecutor. His nomination has the support of his home state senators, Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow.

The Judiciary Committee reported both nominations by voice vote--Judge Walker was reported six months ago, and Mr. Berg was reported five months ago. After the Senate is finally allowed to confirm them, we need to move on to consider and confirm the rest of the nominees who have been stalled on the Senate Executive Calendar so that all Americans will have better access to justice.

I ask unanimous consent to speak on my time, without delaying the vote, as in morning business on another critical matter.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I have spoken on this subject many times on the floor. The people who are affected by violence against women have wondered why the Congress has delayed so long on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the bill we passed here in the Senate.

If someone is a victim of violence, that person can't understand such delays. So I think it is time for the Senate and the House to come together to pass the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The other body needs to do what we did overwhelmingly in this Senate.

Earlier this week, I read in the Burlington, VT, Free Press the story of Carmen Tarleton. She is a woman from Thetford, VT. Thetford, VT, is a small, quiet, beautiful little town in our State.

Five years ago, Carmen's estranged husband broke into her home, he beat her with a baseball bat, and he poured industrial strength lye on her, severely burning a great deal of her body and nearly blinding her. Her doctors said she had suffered the most horrific injury a human being could suffer. Today she is still disfigured and continues to experience pain from these injuries of 5 years ago. She is currently awaiting approval for a procedure that could help her get a face transplant. Despite this, Carmen is courageously sharing her story in a book that she has written called Overcome: Burned, Blinded, and Blessed.

Stories such as Carmen's remind me that every day we do not pass VAWA more people are suffering.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a copy of the article to which I referred.


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, the distinguished Presiding Officer was a strong supporter of this bill--the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, as many of our colleagues were on both sides of the aisle. We tried to keep this a nonpartisan bill--even beyond bipartisan, a nonpartisan bill--because certainly my experience has been that violence occurs not because a woman is a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent. Violence against women occurs in all stratum, in all categories.

Senator Crapo and I put together our bill after listening to victims and the professionals who work with them every day. We did not want provisions in our bill included to score political points. They were there to address the urgent needs of vulnerable victims. That was the one thing we wanted. This wasn't a Democratic or Republican bill, this was to address vulnerable victims.

One key provision in our bipartisan bill would allow tribal courts limited jurisdiction to consider domestic violence offenses committed by non-Indians against Indian women on tribal lands. On this, I relied on the experiences of Senator Crapo and others who come from States where there are tribal lands. As we went into this and talked to the leaders of various tribes from around this country, I heard that violence against Native women is not only appalling, as we knew, but it has become an epidemic. It has been reported that almost three in five Native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. Much of the violence is committed by non-Native Americans--non-Indians.

Federal and State law enforcement may be hours away and lack the resources to respond to these cases, while tribal courts lack jurisdiction to consider these cases. So what happens? The perpetrators are, in effect, immune from the law. The worst part about it is they know they are immune from the law. So the jurisdiction provision in the Senate Leahy-Crapo bill would be a significant step toward addressing this horrific problem, but it would also ensure that no abuser is above the law. As the President said yesterday in a speech to the Tribal Nations Conference: ``With domestic violence so prevalent on reservations, we're pushing Congress to restore your power to bring to justice anyone--Indian or non-Indian--who hurts a woman.''

Even though our tribal provision is limited and guarantees comprehensive rights, House Republicans have objected to it. So I come to the Senate floor to report to my colleagues what I hope is a breakthrough on this issue in this important bill. Two conservative House Republicans, with leadership positions in the Republican House majority, have introduced a reasonable, middle-ground position regarding tribal jurisdiction.

Representative Issa of California and Representative Cole of Oklahoma have introduced the Violence Against Indian Women Act, H.R. 6625. Their cosponsors include Republicans from North Carolina, Minnesota and Idaho. They all have tribes within their states and are concerned about the violence our Senate bill is trying to combat. The Issa-Cole bill includes a provision that allows defendants to remove a case to Federal court if any defendants' rights are violated. This modification should ensure that only those tribes that are following the requirements of the law and providing full rights can exercise jurisdiction, and that defendants can raise challenges at the beginning of a case.

Some in the House Republican leadership have expressed a ``just say no'' approach to any grant of tribal jurisdiction, but the House Republican leadership should give serious consideration to this Republican proposal so we can move forward and protect thousands of victims, non-Native Americans and Native Americans.

The National Congress of American Indians has sent a letter and urged Senator Crapo and me to take a serious look at the Issa-Cole provisions. We are. I have consulted with Senators on both sides of the aisle regarding this proposal so we can find a way forward. I urge the House Republican leadership to do so as well.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a copy of the NCAI letter.


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, already, eight House Republicans have endorsed this approach in a letter to Speaker Boehner urging passage of our VAWA legislation with this compromise. I am reaching out to them and to members of both parties in both houses of Congress asking them to consider how we can bridge differences and get VAWA reauthorization legislation enacted to meaningfully address the brutal violence on tribal lands.

I remain committed to finding solutions to all the areas of contention between the House and the Senate on VAWA. We ought to be able to pass legislation that includes provisions addressing the violence on tribal lands and the need to protect immigrant women and those who have not had access to services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I believe we can find acceptable versions of the Senate bill's new protections for students and other key provisions. I am reaching out to the House Republican leadership. I look forward to their seizing this opportunity provided by these senior House Republicans to work with me and Senator Crapo and the 68 Senators from both parties who voted for the Leahy-Crapo VAWA bill last April. If we can complete our work and send this bill to the President before we adjourn this year, he will sign it. Because with every day, every week, every month that goes by there are more horrific accounts of domestic and sexual violence. Whether it is a victim in Thetford, VT, or Kansas City, we owe it to them to come together to find a compromise.

I have said this before several times: I still have nightmares from the domestic violence crime scenes I saw as a prosecutor in Vermont. I became a prosecutor at a time when many of the laws were changing--search and seizure laws, Miranda laws, and so forth--and I would go with the police to crime scenes to give them advice on what the new laws might mean. A lot of times those scenes were at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. Many times we would see battered women, sometimes women no longer alive. I had nightmares from those. But I remember the police never asked: Is this an immigrant? Is this woman gay or straight? Is this woman Native American? They just wanted to stop the crime from happening again, and this legislation would give them a lot of tools so they can do that. The thought that our inaction could lead to more scenes such as those I saw would be tragic.

Congress must act now to protect victims of rape and domestic violence. I am optimistic we can move together now that several House Republicans support a compromise position on tribal jurisdiction. I look forward to hearing from the House Republican leadership.

Mr. President, I know we are going to vote at 12, so I yield the floor.


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