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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, the Senate is finally being allowed to vote today on the nomination of Michael Shea to be a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. It has taken far too long for this day to come, but he will be confirmed and I congratulate him and his family on his confirmation and I congratulate the two Senators from Connecticut on finally having this nomination come to a vote.

I mention this not to urge that we confirm him because we will--and I will very proudly vote for him--but Michael Shea is another nominee whose nomination was stalled for months for no good reason. The Judiciary Committee--and the distinguished Presiding Officer serves on that committee and will recall--we gave his nomination strong bipartisan support more than 7 months ago. He has the support of both home State Senators--both Senator Lieberman and Senator Blumenthal. He has significant litigation experience. He is a graduate of Yale Law School. He clerked for the conservative Judge James Buckley in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit following graduation.

We have to ask, why did it take 7 months for the Senate to finally consider his nomination--after waiting 7 months, we will talk about it for 20 minutes, and then we will vote on his nomination. Why the 7-month delay? Republican obstruction.

After this vote, the Senate remains backlogged with 17 judicial nominations that go back to before the August recess. Senate Republicans are establishing another harmful precedent by refusing to proceed on judicial nominees with bipartisan support before the end of the session. They held up judicial nominees 3 years ago, they did it 2 years ago, they did it last year, and now they are doing it again this year.

They have found a new way to employ their old trick of a pocket filibuster. They stall nominees into the next year, and then they force the Senate, in the new year, to work on nominees from the past year. They delay and delay and delay and push other confirmations back in time and then cut off Senate consideration of any nominees.

How else does anyone explain the Republican Senate opposition to William Kayatta of Maine, who is supported by the two Republican Senators from Maine? How else to explain the Republican filibuster and continuing opposition to Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, who has the support of Senator Inhofe and Senator Coburn, the two Republican Senators from Oklahoma? How else to explain their adamant refusal to consider the nomination of Richard Taranto to the Federal Circuit, when the Judiciary Committee had seven of the eight Republican Senators voting for him? One, Senator Lee, cast a ``no'' vote but said it was a protest on another matter. But every single Democrat voted for him.

These delays may serve some petty political purpose, but the American people do not want petty political purposes. They want our Nation's courts to be staffed. They want the American people who seek justice to be able to get it. So we should take action on all pending nominees and reduce the damagingly high number of judicial vacancies. Federal judicial vacancies remain above 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 motions on 17 district court nominations--something I had never seen in my 37 years here. There are going to be at least 80 vacancies after today. Before we adjourn, we ought to at least vote on the 17 pending nominations that could have been and should have been confirmed before the August recess.

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 whether there was a Republican or Democratic President or a Republican-controlled or Democratic-controlled Senate.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, no consensus nominee reported prior to the August recess has ever been denied a vote--before now. Somehow, this President is treated differently than all the other Presidents before him. I have been here with President Ford, President Carter, President Reagan, the first President Bush, President Clinton, the second President Bush, and now President Obama. None of those other Presidents were treated in the way this President is treated. It is something Senate Democrats have never done in any lame duck session, whether after a Presidential or midterm election.

In fact, Senate Democrats allowed votes on 20 of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees, including 3 circuit court nominees, in the lame duck session after the election in 2002. I remember. I was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I moved forward with those votes, including one on a very controversial circuit court nominee. The Senate proceeded to confirm judicial nominees in lameduck sessions after the elections in 2004 and 2006. Actually, in 2006, we confirmed another circuit court nominee.

We proceeded to confirm 19 judicial nominees in a lame duck session after the elections of 2010, including five circuit court nominees. The reason I am not listing confirmations for the lame duck session at the end of 2008 is because that year we had proceeded to confirm the last 10 judicial nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee in September and long before the lame duck session.

That is our history. That is our recent precedent. Those across the aisle who contend that judicial confirmation votes during lame duck sessions do not take place are wrong. The facts are facts are facts. It is past time for votes on the 4 circuit court nominees and the other 13 district court nominees still pending on the Executive Calendar.

Let's do our job. This is what the American people pay us to do. Let's vote up or vote down, but let's vote.

I yield the floor.


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