Mr. President: Recently, I came to the floor of the Senate to talk about the lack of faith that the American people have in the political system and in our government. My focus that day was on campaign finance laws and the impact of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court two years ago.
Today I'm here to discuss along with my colleagues another dynamic of Capitol Hill that is making people lose faith in Washington: the apparent inability of Congress to get routine business done, specifically, the failure of the Senate to fill the dozens of judicial vacancies that exist around the country.
This doesn't need to be a partisan debate. I know Senators on each side have their own reasons why it's the other party's fault, but we need to put those arguments behind us and agree to do the people's business. We've actually done a good job, as Senator Cardin has pointed out, on the Judiciary Committee with having a number of judges that have come through that Committee and are waiting approval on the floor. But often we approve judges, and then they don't get floor votes for months and months and months.
Also, the vast majority of judges that get approved, get approved unanimously in Committee. That was my experience with the judge that I recommended for Minnesota, who now is a judge, so we got her done, but there are so many more, as you know, and so many jurisdictions with heavy caseloads which are awaiting judges. Once these judges get to the floor, almost all of them just get a handful of “no” votes. Why is that? They've been vetted. They've been vetted, their records have been looked at, they’ve gone through a Committee hearing, looked at by Senators on both sides of the aisle in the Judiciary Committee, and if they've reached that point of being on the floor of the Senate, it's no surprise they might get just a few “no” votes. So I don't see this as a partisan issue, but it's an issue that we must get done.
If almost all the Senators support almost all the judges, this isn't just about pushing one side's agenda or judicial philosophy. These are extremely qualified judges who, Senators believe, will be fair, impartial jurists committed to objectively interpreting the law.
But the fact is that we are lagging way behind the confirmation pace under previous Presidents of both parties and with the Senate controlled by either party. By this time in the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Senate had confirmed 183 judges. By this time in the presidency of George W. Bush, the Senate had confirmed 170 judges. As of today, we have only confirmed 129 judicial nominees of President Obama.
And it's important to know that President Bush actually ended up getting five more judges approved in his first term than President Clinton. So we don't have a case where there's suddenly been a decline over time with the judge's approval. In fact, it went up after Clinton. And now, as we can see, it's going down. It doesn't seem to be any indication at this very moment in time that we are speeding up the process; while early in the year we did confirm a number of judges, there was an agreement, there's still way too many out there, and we need to move on them now.
Typically, the Senate will approve noncontroversial judicial nominees before the end of the session in December, but that did not happen this past year, and we have not made too much progress since returning in January.
It doesn't take too long to approve a judge on the Floor. Often we have an hour or two of debate and then vote on two or three judges so we can get these judges confirmed quickly if both sides consent.
Some people listening are thinking that there must be an explanation, that I'm somehow leaving out key numbers when I’ve just explained we only need an hour or two for each of these 20-something pending judges.
Maybe they are thinking there aren't as many vacancies as under previous Presidents. But no, under President Clinton, there were about 53 vacancies at this point in his presidency. Under President Bush, there were 46 vacancies. Right now under President Obama, there are in fact 85 judicial vacancies.
Maybe people at home are thinking this process is the result of controversial nominees. But no, it's not that either. As I mentioned earlier, most of the judicial nominees awaiting a floor vote were approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is not a Committee, as the President knows from serving on that Committee, that is for shrinking violets; there are people with very diverse views. And most of these nominees, as I explained, came through with all of their support. In fact, 16 of the 19 nominees waiting for a floor vote received unanimous votes in Committee. They were approved by every single member of the Judiciary Committee from both parties.
Most of those unanimous judges have been waiting for a vote for months. We should confirm them right away. We should confirm them this week. We can have a vote so the few people on the other side of the aisle who do not agree with those nominees can register their objections and vote “no.” But there is no reason to hold up all of these nominees for all of these jurisdictions across the country.
For the judges that have come out of committee more recently, I understand that Senators need time to look at their records and qualifications. That is an important part of process. But after a reasonable period of time, let’s move on confirm the newer judges as well. Let's vote up or down on all the judges and get them on the bench.
I also want to point out that the judicial nomination process is bipartisan. That may surprise some people watching at home. They may think I'm making that up. But the truth is that nominees don't move forward in the Judiciary Committee unless both of the home-state Senators sign off. So whether it is two Democrats or two Republicans or one from either party, both Senators have effective veto power over the judicial nominees from their state.
Usually the judges proposed by the President, first are recommended by Senators. So it's not a question of President Obama just picking whoever he wants and appointing them to the judiciary. He has to pick people who are okay with both Senators regardless of party. It forces a President of either party to choose high-quality, well-respected mainstream judges.
I remain hopeful that we can rectify this situation and start get judges approved in a timely manner and catch up to where we were under previous Presidents. But it is not about keeping some score card from President to President, as much as I've loved using these statistics today, Mr. President. Or from Congress to Congress. In truth, it is about justice. And we all know that.
We are constantly hearing complaints about the slow pace of federal courts. Those complaints are real, and they impact people -- real people -- every day. Whether we are talking about people seeking to protect their rights under the Americans With Disability Act or companies trying to resolve commercial disputes -- I have a few of them in my state – unreasonable delays in court proceedings undermine our system of justice. And things won't get any better if we understaff our federal judiciary.
There are many problems facing our country that do not have simple solutions. There are many problems for which the two parties have vastly different solutions. But in this case with judicial vacancies, there is only one solution, and it is well within our grasp given that so many of these judges were noncontroversial. This is the solution, Mr. President. It's two words: let's vote. Let's vote on all of the pending nominees and let's continue to vote as more nominees emerge from the Judiciary Committee. If a Senator wants to vote "no" on a particular nominee, if he or she wants to get a long and glorious speech about why they are opposed to the nominee, please let them do that. Let them do that today. All we are asking for have a vote. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.