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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I know it is several minutes past 5. I doubt very much if we will use the 30 minutes. We will probably be able to yield back time so the vote can be at 5:30, although I am not making that request at this point.

Listening to the distinguished chair of the Appropriations Committee, the senior Senator from Maryland, I had to agree with everything she was saying. This is the fourteenth day of the government shutdown, and by refusing to pass a clean continuing resolution to fund the operations of the Federal government, Republicans continue to threaten the critical functioning of all three branches of government.

With this ongoing shutdown of the entire Federal government, a handful of ideologues in the House of Representatives are holding the entire judicial system hostage and this threatens our entire democracy.

One critical problem is that we have more than 90 judicial vacancies, including 39 that have been designated as emergency vacancies due to high caseloads by the non-partisan Administrative Office of the Courts.

While we will vote to confirm two additional judges today, we are moving far too slowly and are not keeping pace with the urgent needs of our Federal judiciary. We must do better.

Both of the district court nominees we are voting on today have been nominated to fill vacancies that were named judicial emergencies by the nonpartisan Administrative Office of the Courts. Andrea Wood is nominated to a judicial emergency vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Since 2004, Ms. Wood has served in the Division of Enforcement of the Securities and Exchange Commission, currently as a senior trial counsel and previously as a senior attorney. Before joining the SEC, she spent 5 years in private practice as an associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Following law school, Ms. Wood served as a law clerk for Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Ms. Wood earned her B.A., with honors, from the University of Chicago, and her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she served as articles editor of the Yale Law Journal. She has the bipartisan support of her home State Senators, Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk. Her nomination was approved by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote with no opposition to her confirmation expressed more than 2 months ago.

Madeline Haikala is nominated to a judicial emergency vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, where she has served as a magistrate judge since 2012. Prior to her appointment, she worked at the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin, & White for 22 years, first as an associate and subsequently as a partner. In addition, Judge Haikala has taught for approximately 7 years as an adjunct professor at the Cumberland School of Law.

The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Judge Haikala well qualified to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, its highest rating. Judge Haikala also has the strong support of both of her Republican home State Senators, Senator Shelby and Senator Sessions. Like the other nomination we are voting on today, Judge Haikala's nomination was approved by the Judiciary Committee by voice vote with no opposition to her confirmation expressed more than 2 months ago.

While I am pleased that we are finally getting to vote on these nominees, there remain far too many judicial vacancies. Because of the government shutdown, we have been unable to hold hearings, process, and approve nominees in the Judiciary Committee for the last two weeks. It does our country a serious injustice when we fail to provide our Federal courts with the resources it needs. Let us end this shutdown now so we can do what we were elected to do and carry out business on behalf of the American people.

Let me tell my colleagues another thing that has happened. This afternoon, I got a call from the chief judge of the District of Vermont, the Federal district court. She wanted me to know they are going to run out of funds on Thursday. She is very worried about the growing opiate crisis in Vermont. If the courts run out of money, they are not going to be able to monitor and test those awaiting trials in serious drug trafficking cases.

Judge Reiss made it very clear that we are going to hear this from courts all over the country. We forget there are things our courts have to do and should do to keep the Presiding Officer safer and me safer, as well as everybody else. But we are saying, sorry, we are having this little political snit and we are not going to give you the money.

I have always been proud of being a member of the Vermont bar. I have been proud of that membership during the time I was in private practice and during the time I was a prosecutor, but throughout it all, we always relied on the courts to do their work. We expected that if after Gideon v. Wainwright it was necessary to appoint counsel for a criminal defendant, the counsel would be there. We expected that if one had a case they wanted heard, there would be a court that could hear it. That is not going to happen. We are going to have criminal cases that are going to get backed up because we don't have the personnel there, and behind those criminal cases are going to be people--Republicans, Democrats, Independents--who are going to have legitimate civil cases that they need to bring to court to be resolved and they are not going to be heard for years and years and years.

Some of the handful of ideologues who are holding up our ability to fund the government go down and have a disturbing and disgraceful rally on the Mall, where they ridicule the President of the United States. They distort their own roles in how they closed down the government, and then they try to use brave veterans as pawns, do they know what they are doing to the image of the United States?

I see the distinguished Senator from Illinois on the floor. One of these judges is from his state. I don't know if he wishes to speak.

I would say once more, all Americans who rely on our court and our judicial system know our system of justice is facing a great danger not because of anything the courts have done but because of a small group of ideologues in the House of Representatives who are holding this budget hostage.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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