Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Chris Coons
Date: April 10, 2013
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. Mr. President, earlier this afternoon I had the opportunity, the honor, to chair a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which we both serve, to consider the President's nomination of a highly qualified lawyer, Sri Srinivasan, to serve on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

I am encouraged by what the majority leader has just said about the very real possibility that we will get a vote on the floor of this Senate on vital and important issues affecting guns, immigration, and other issues, but what I speak to today is the absolutely essential role this Senate must fill of voting on qualified judges who have been nominated to the circuit courts of the United States.

Earlier today at this hearing, 10 of our colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, asked thoughtful questions, and Mr. Srinivasan gave thorough and thoughtful answers. I came away convinced that he has the background, the education, the skills, and, most importantly, the temperament to serve as a circuit court judge. And I was encouraged by comments of my colleagues, both Republican and Democratic, that they too were inclined to support this nomination.

Under normal historical circumstances, today's hearing would be the beginning of a deliberate, timely, orderly process--a process required of this body by article II, section 2 of our Constitution by which we advise and consent to the President's nominations.

We should, of course, carefully consider the qualifications of candidates and not serve as some rubberstamp, but neither should we be a firewall blocking qualified nominees from serving. Unfortunately, for some number of years, this Senate has, in some vital instances, served more as a firewall than as an advise and consent body. Instead of doing our due diligence with appropriate speed, we have seen delays, stalling tactics, and in some instances filibusters of highly qualified nominees.

Five years into President Obama's administration, the courts are still nearly 10 percent vacant. In my view, our courts should be above politics. When the President of either party submits a highly qualified candidate of good character and sound legal mind, absent exceptional circumstances, that candidate is entitled to a vote.

The actions or in this case inaction of the Senate with regard to the DC Circuit have consequences. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has a series of vacancies, the result of which, in my view, are to delay and deny justice for Americans far beyond the boundaries of this District of Columbia.

The DC Circuit Court is often called the second most important in the Nation, because, like the Supreme Court, it handles cases that impact Americans all over our country. Regularly, it hears cases on issues ranging from terrorism and detention to the scope of Federal agency power. Yet it is critically understaffed. This circuit court has not seen a nominee confirmed since President George W. Bush's fourth nominee to that court was confirmed in 2006. Today, more than 1,500 days after President Obama has taken office, 4 of the 11 seats on the DC Circuit are open, making it more than one-third vacant and putting the remaining judges under undue strain to decide the complex and important cases before this court.

Contrary to the previous administration, this administration was recently recognized by the New York Times Editorial Board as putting forward nominees who are decidedly moderate. President Obama first nominated for this vacancy on this court the exceptionally qualified Caitlin Halligan, who waited more than 900 days for a simple up-or-down vote on the floor of this Chamber. She came with the American Bar Association's highest rating, glowing recommendations from bipartisan supporters, and a diverse legal career marked by distinctive service as New York's solicitor general. Nevertheless, sadly, Republican Senators successfully filibustered her nomination, and last month President Obama reluctantly withdrew Ms. Halligan from consideration.

We have today a chance for a fresh start with Mr. Srinivasan, who would serve equally well and ably on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. As he demonstrated in today's hearing, he has a sharp and capable legal mind. He has served in the Solicitor General's office for both Republican and Democratic administrations. He has served in the private sector and the public sector and has earned bipartisan support from those who have worked with him.

In fact, he has been endorsed publicly in a letter from 12 former Solicitors General and Principal Deputy Solicitors General, six Democrats, six Republicans, for those who have served in Democratic and Republican administrations.

The letter, signed by conservative legal luminaries such as Paul Clement and Ted Olson, notes Mr. Srinivasan is ``one of the best appellate lawyers in the country,'' with an ``unsurpassed'' work ethic who is ``extremely well prepared to take on the intellectual rigors of serving on the D.C. Circuit.''

At the same time, throughout the course of his career in private practice and as a public servant, he has represented clients with causes diverse enough that any individual policymaker or elected official is likely to disagree with some of them, including me. I disagree with a position he argued in Rumsfeld v. Padilla in support of the idea that the government has a right to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely, but I do not ascribe that position to him.

One of the most foundational principles of our legal system is that we do not ascribe to the attorney the position which he successfully and vigorously advocates on behalf of his client. I will not block his nomination simply because I might disagree with the position he took on behalf of a client in one case.

Sri, in my view, is a highly capable attorney, with the character and demeanor to serve on the bench. I will strongly support his nomination. I am following in this instance the wisdom of Chief Justice Roberts, who has said: ``It's a tradition of the American Bar that goes back before the founding of our nation that lawyers are not identified with the positions of their clients.''

So I say to my colleagues, let's move forward in that spirit. Let's return to our historic constitutionally mandated role. Let's give Mr. Srinivasan a speedy up-or-down vote, which I believe he has earned with decades of public service and public sector experience.

To be honest, if this nomination cannot move forward, if this nomination is filibustered for what can only be political reasons, I cannot imagine what nomination could move forward to this court. A filibuster of this nomination would sadly prove to me, just as it did to those of the other party in 2005, that the judicial nomination standards and procedures at work are unworkable, the system is broken, and it would lead to a reconsideration.

There was a crisis of this sort when the parties were of opposite configuration in 2005 that led the majority to threaten the so-called nuclear option to end judicial filibusters by the party in which I serve, a result that was avoided only at the last moment for the good of the Senate and the Nation. I urge my colleagues to come together to give this good man a vote and avoid another such crisis today.

Let's do our job so the judges of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals can do theirs for the people of our Nation.

I yield the floor.


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