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Norton Details Reasons Why Filibuster Reform has Become Essential


Location: Washington, DC

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Judicial Nominations Working Group, today detailed the reasons why the CBC strongly supports Senate approval to require an up-or-down vote for all nominations other than for the Supreme Court.

Norton's statement follows.

"We support the Senate's approval to require an up-or-down vote for all nominations other than for the Supreme Court.

"For the Congressional Black Caucus, the filibuster of two eminently qualified African American candidates without so much as an up-or-down vote is a last-straw moment. One of the most able members of the CBC and an African American district court judge unanimously confirmed just three years ago have been filibustered at the gateways, before the Senate had a chance to consider their nominations. Throughout the 20th century, the filibuster was used largely to block civil rights legislation. We who are African American members of Congress cannot stand down when the filibuster is used in the 21st century as a shield against two well-qualified African Americans we strongly support.

"Filibustering a sitting member of Congress for the first time in 150 years is an insult to a colleague and, in the case of Representative Mel Watt, is a hit in the gut to the African American community. Once a president is elected, he is entitled to his choice of executives to implement the policies he had promised to carry out if elected. Representative Watt, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a graduate of Yale Law School, had deep professional experience in housing as a practicing attorney before coming to Congress.

"For more than 20 years as a member of the Financial Services Committee, Mel has had oversight over the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which he has been nominated to administer. With an indisputable background of direct experience, it should be impossible to deny him the courtesy of a vote and to deny the president his choice without a vote.

"We also must draw the line against the use of the filibuster of an African American district court judge we similarly support on the merits of his background and experience. The Senate found Judge Robert Wilkins so well qualified three years ago that it gave him a unanimous vote to become a U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia and the American Bar Association gave him its highest rating for that court, and, now, also for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Judge Wilkins, who graduated cum laude as a chemical engineer from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in his home state of Indiana and from Harvard Law School, brought a rich background in both criminal and complex civil litigation to the bench. Judge Wilkins' Republican Senate opponents concede that their denial of cloture was not based on Judge Wilkins' qualifications, but on an effort to reduce the number of judges on the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, which has nothing to do with the Senate's advice and consent duty to evaluate the nominee to sit on a court. If the Senators desire to reduce the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit, they must take the route prescribed by their own rules, as they successfully did in 2007, when the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit was reduced after a hearing and mark-up. We cannot allow a filibuster of an African American judicial nominee that is both an abuse of the constitutional advice and consent process and the rules of the Senate.

"We recognize that both sides have used the filibuster. The Senate seemed to understand earlier this year that the president can only do his job if his nominees are allowed to be approved with up-or-down votes. That breakthrough turned out not to indicate a real change, but only a temporary reprieve from what had been a long period of not allowing cloture on critical presidential nominees. We are also outraged by the abuse of the confirmation process that withholds a vote on a judicial nominee, unrelated to the merits of his or her nomination, but instead to accomplish legislative change. We believe, therefore, that the Majority Leaders' decision to allow majority vote, always intended as the governing process in our country on most nominations, is the only way to ensure that vital business of the country, charged to the Senate alone through the confirmation process, is carried out."

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