Washington, DC — Today U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar called on her colleagues in the Senate to come together and fill the judicial vacancies that are hindering the federal court system. There are currently 19 judicial nominees that have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and are awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, and these vacancies are putting a strain on understaffed courts around the country and causing unreasonable delays. In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Klobuchar urged her colleagues to put aside partisan differences and allow votes on the outstanding judicial nominees.
“The high number of judicial vacancies across the country is putting a tremendous strain on our court system, causing unreasonable delays that have a real impact on our communities,” Klobuchar said.“Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to put aside partisan differences and come together to do the people’s business.”
Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts.
The full text of Klobuchar’s prepared remarks is below.
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 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 am here to discuss another dynamic of Capitol Hill that is making people lose faith in Washington: the apparent inability of Congress to get routine business done. Specifically, I am here to talk about 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 just put those arguments behind us and agree to do the people’s business. We’ve actually been doing a better job in the Judiciary Committee, but sometimes we approve judges and then they don’t get floor votes for months and months.
Also, the vast majority of judges get approved unanimously in Committee. And once they get to the floor almost all of the judges get only a handful of “no” votes, sometimes less. So this really isn’t a partisan issue, it’s just an issue of getting our work done.
Obviously, if almost all Senators support almost all of the judges, this isn’t 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. And yet, as of today, we have only confirmed 129 judicial nominees of President Obama.
And it is important to note that President Bush actually ended up getting 5 more judges approved in his first term than President Clinton, so there hasn’t been a steady decline in the pace of judicial confirmations. Despite these numbers, there does not seem to be much indication that we are speeding up the process or that we are on a path to catch up.
Typically, the Senate will approve non-controversial 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 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 probably thinking that there must be an explanation; that I must be leaving out some key numbers.
Maybe they are thinking that 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 85 judicial vacancies.
Maybe people at home are thinking the slow process is a result of low-quality or controversial nominees. But no, it’s not that either. As I mentioned earlier, most the judicial nominees awaiting a Floor vote were approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 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.
For the judges that have come out of committee more recently, I understand that Senators need time to take a look at their records and qualifications. That is an important part of the process. But after a reasonable period of time let’s move on to confirm the newer judges as well. Let’s vote up or down on all of the judges and get them on the bench.
I also want to point out that the judicial nomination process is completely bi-partisan. That may surprise some people watching at home; they may think I am 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 each party, both Senators have effective veto power over the judicial nominees from their state.
And usually the judges are proposed to the President 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 ok with both Senators, regardless of party. It forces him to choose highly qualified, well respected, mainstream judges.
I remain hopeful that we can rectify this situation and start getting judges approved in a timely manner, and catch up to where we were under previous presidents. But it is not about keeping some scorecard from President to President, or from Congress to Congress. This is about justice.
We are constantly hearing complaints about the slow pace of federal courts. Those delays are real, and they impact people every day. Whether we are talking about individuals seeking to protect their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or companies trying to resolve commercial disputes, unreasonable delays in court proceedings undermine our system of justice. And things won’t get any better if we continue to have a woefully understaffed 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 simple, and it is well within our grasp: let’s vote. Let’s vote on all of the pending nominees and then let’s continue to vote as more nominees emerge from the Judiciary Committee. If a Senator wants to vote “no” on a particular nominee, that’s fine, that’s each Senator’s choice. But let’s vote.