Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Judicial Nominations Working Group, released her statement on the filibuster of Judge Robert Wilkins for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. President Obama, like President Clinton, granted Norton senatorial courtesy to recommend federal district court judges and other federal law enforcement officials in the District. Wilkins was the first of Norton's recommendations to President Obama for a vacancy on the district court, where he currently serves.
In light of today's filibuster of an African American Court of Appeals judge, Norton will lead a strategy discussion at the CBC meeting on Wednesday on moving African American judicial nominees through the Senate.
"I appreciate the deference to the people of the District of Columbia by the President when he granted me "senatorial courtesy' to recommend federal district court judges to him," said Norton. "The District of Columbia, whose residents pay federal taxes and have always served in the military, of course, have no senators and, therefore, would otherwise have no way to advise the President on these important law enforcement officials with jurisdiction over them in criminal and civil matters. I am, in turn, advised by a distinguished 17-member panel of residents, which investigates and submits the most qualified applicants to me.
"Speaking for the CBC, as its Judicial Nominees Working Group chair, I want to say how seriously we regard the inappropriate of use of the confirmation process to make a structural decision on the composition of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit or on any federal court. Our judgment is confirmed by the Constitution itself, which gives and clearly intends the Senate advice and consent authority only to approve or disapprove the President's nominees. As Republican senators have said on the record, their opposition to Judge Robert Wilkins is based on an extra-constitutional structural matter involving the number of judges on the Court of Appeals here, not the quality of the nominee, as prescribed by Article II of the Constitution.
"Moreover, the practice and the process that the Senate itself prescribes for changes in the structure of federal courts is through the Judiciary Committee. Today's filibuster refuses to recognize the process the Senate requires, even though hearings are being held in the Senate on a comprehensive bill on federal judgeships in the U.S. federal courts as we speak. The Senate Republicans belatedly recognized that regular order requires proceeding through the Judiciary Committee, only when, in June, a bill was introduced to reduce the number of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Yet, in 2007, the number of judges for the D.C. Circuit was reduced by one judge after a hearing and markup. Moreover, just last week, the House unanimously passed H.R. 2871 to modify the composition of the southern judicial district of Mississippi, and that bill is expected to be passed in the Senate. Thus, today's filibuster both abused the confirmation process and the rules of the Senate, unfairly using a cloture vote to withhold a vote on the confirmation of an African American nominee who has received the highest rating from the American Bar Association.
"Judge Wilkins was the first judge I recommended to President Obama upon his election to office. In what is surely one of the country's most distinguished and competitive bars, Judge Wilkins stood out then, as a lawyer, as he does now, as a district court judge. The rise of this son of a single mother in Muncie, Indiana was perhaps forecast early in his life when Judge Wilkins had to work to complete high school, but did not trade sports and other extracurricular activities while earning a 4.0 GPA. The career of this young lawyer, named one of the 90 greatest Washington lawyers in the last 30 years, was affirmed when the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary twice gave Judge Wilkins its highest rating, "Well Qualified,' both for his nomination to serve on the U.S. District Court and now on the U.S. Court of Appeals here.
"The work ethic, brilliance and character that were so clearly evident in Judge Wilkins' early life apparently set the mark for excellence he has reached ever since -- graduating cum laude from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in his home state as a chemical engineer and from Harvard Law School, where he served as Executive Editor and Comment Editor on one of its law reviews, then a U.S. District Court clerkship, followed by extensive trial experience at the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, known for attracting top law school graduates, and becoming a partner in a top law firm, Venable LLP, where his practice in intellectual property and complex business dispute litigation as well as white collar criminal defense rounded out the experience that led to his nomination for the federal judiciary.
"Senate consideration for federal bench nominations have been unusually partisan in recent years, but the Senate had no issue with the number of judges on D.C. Circuit when it confirmed three- judges nominated by President Bush. Today's pretext, requiring a three judge downsizing of the D.C. Circuit only when a Democratic president nominates three candidates, cannot be allowed to prevail. We of the Congressional Black Caucus take particular exception to denying cloture for Judge Robert Wilkins and the use of the filibuster to defeat the nomination of an eminently well qualified candidate now serving as a district judge, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate only three years ago."