The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee blasted Senate Republicans Tuesday for perpetuating the country’s high rate of judicial vacancies and suggested that the process of judicial confirmation in the Senate has become worse than during other administrations.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) made the statements after the Senate voted Tuesday night to confirm just four of the 24 pending judicial nominees before leaving for August recess.
“This is not how the Senate has acted in years past with other Presidents’ judicial nominees,” Leahy said. “Vacancies are being kept high, consensus nominees are being delayed and it is the American people and the federal courts that are being made to suffer.”
The Senate has confirmed 11 judicial nominees since the Memorial Day recess in May, and a total of 35 nominees this year. Meanwhile, the number of judicial vacancies has remained around 90, Leahy said.
“The Senate’s Republican leadership has refused to consent to vote on these qualified, consensus nominations, leaving 16 of the 20 unanimously reported nominees in limbo,” he said. “In the past, we were able to confirm consensus nominees more promptly. They were not forced to languish for months.
“Republican obstruction kept the two-year total of confirmations to the lowest total in 35 years, for the first two years of a President’s term,” he added.
But Leahy thanked the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, for his cooperation in moving judicial nominations through the committee.
“His approach has been the right approach,” he said. “Regrettably, it has not been matched on the floor, where the refusal by Republican leadership to come to regular time agreements to consider nominations has put our progress – our positive action – at risk.”
Grassley disagreed with Leahy’s assessment of confirmation-process politics.
“It’s disingenuous to say that Republicans are holding up the judicial confirmation process,” Grassley said in a statement. “Of the 20 nominees remaining on the Senate calendar, five of those were just recently reported out of committee, and the first vote the Senate has scheduled upon returning in September is on a circuit court nominee. I expect we will continue to move forward on confirmations in September. However, we will not be a rubberstamp for the president.”
He also pointed to the fact that during the Obama administration the Senate has confirmed two appointments to the Supreme Court, which take a longer time, he said.
Extensive waits aren’t just a problem for judicial nominations. U.S. Attorney candidate Scott Bowen recently withdrew his name from consideration for a post in western Michigan after more than a year because he said he was tired of waiting. And last year, two other U.S. Attorney nominees from Arkansas removed their names from consideration amid long delays in the nomination process.
UPDATED: 2:01 p.m. to include response from Sen. Grassley.