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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, Monday's confirmation of Judge Beverly O'Connell marked the 150th confirmation of a Federal trial court nomination by President Obama. Thanks to Senate Republicans' concerted effort to filibuster, obstruct and delay his moderate judicial nominees, it took almost 1 year longer to reach this milestone than it did when his Republican predecessor was serving as President, 10 months in fact. I have repeatedly asked Senate Republicans to abandon their destructive tactics. Their unwillingness to do so shows that Senate Republicans are still focused on obstructing this President, rather than helping meet the needs of the American people and our judiciary.

The ability of hardworking Americans to get their day in court and have their rights protected should not be subject to this kind of wrongheaded, partisan obstructionism. Today, the Senate is being allowed to vote on just 2 of the 15 judicial nominees ready for confirmation. Ten of the judicial nominees confirmed this year could and should have been confirmed last year. There are still four judicial nominees in that category, who are part of the backlog on which Senate Republicans insist on maintaining. And like so many of President Obama's district court nominees, Analisa Torres and Derrick Watson have had to wait more than 60 days after being voted on by the Judiciary Committee to be considered by the Senate. These systematic delays help explain why we remain more than 20 confirmations behind the pace we set with President Bush's nominees. We can make up much of that ground if Senate Republicans would just agree to a vote on all 15 nominees currently pending on the Executive Calendar. All of them received bipartisan support in committee, and all but one were unanimously approved by the committee. There is no good reason for further delay, especially at a time when judicial vacancies remain at 85.

Let us clear the backlog of judicial nominees ready for confirmation. Republicans have recently started pointing to 2004. In 1 month in 2004, a presidential election year, we were able to clear a backlog of[Page: S2783] consensus nominees by confirming 20. This insistence on delay and holding over consensus nominees from 1 year to the next has been constant. Seventeen of the confirmations for which Senate Republicans now seek credit over the past 2 years should have been confirmed more than 2 years ago in the preceding Congress. That is when they allowed only 60 judicial confirmations to take place during President Obama's first 2 years in office, the lowest total for a President in over 30 years. Indeed, during President Obama's first year in office, Senate Republicans stalled all but 12 of his circuit and district nominees. That was the lowest 1-year confirmation total since the Eisenhower administration, when the Federal bench was barely 1/3 the size it is today.

The fact is that we have these 15 nominees waiting for a vote. We have 15 judgeships that can be filled so that hardworking Americans in New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, California, Florida, Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming can have better access to justice. All Senate Democrats are prepared to vote on all of these nominees today.

Judge Analisa Torres is nominated to serve on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. She currently serves as a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Previously, she served as an acting New York State Supreme Court Justice, a judge for the Civil Court of the City of New York, and as a judge for the Criminal Court of the City of New York. She received her A.B., magna cum laude, from Harvard University and her J.D. from Columbia Law School. Judge Torres has the strong support of her home State Senators, Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand.

Derrick Kahala Watson is nominated to the US District Court for the District of Hawaii. He currently serves as the chief of the Civil Division in the US attorney's office in the District of Hawaii. Prior to that, he was an assistant United States attorney in the same office. From 1995 to 2000, he served as an assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of California and served as deputy chief of the Civil Division from 1999 to 2000. In addition to his service at the US attorney's office, he was in private practice for more than a decade. Derrick Watson received his J.D. from Harvard Law School and his A.B., cum laude, from Harvard College. He has the support of his home State Senators, Senator Hirono and Senator Schatz.

Both nominees were unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by voice vote 2 months ago.

Like almost all of the other nominees pending on the Executive Calendar, these are the kind of mainstream and consensus nominees who should be confirmed quickly. For nearly 4 years vacancies have been at or above 80, putting an unnecessary strain on our Federal courts. Sequestration cuts have added to the pressure on our justice system. Let us vote on the remaining nominees so that they can get to work for the American people.

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