A picture of Senator Harry Reid
Harry R.
Democrat NV

About Sen. Harry
  • Nominations

    by Senator Harry Reid

    Posted on 2013-03-05

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    REID. Mr. President, four-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom William Gladstone said something we all have repeated many times: ``Justice delayed is justice denied.'' By that measure millions of Americans who rely on courts that are overworked and understaffed are being denied the justice they rightly deserve.

    With 1 out of every 10 Federal judgeships today vacant, Americans can no longer rely on fairness and speedy trials. More than one-half of the Nation's population lives in a part of the country that has been declared a judicial emergency--more than one-half.

    The high number of vacancies isn't due to a lack of qualified lawyers to take these jobs; it is due, instead, to [[Page S1096]] blatant partisanship. I am going to lay out in a few minutes what is remarkable.

    President Obama's judicial nominees have waited on average four times longer to be confirmed than those nominated by the second George W. Bush. Even highly qualified nominees--nominees who are eventually confirmed unanimously or almost unanimously--routinely wait for months to be confirmed because of the delay tactics used by my Republican colleagues.

    Tomorrow we are going to consider highly qualified Caitlin Joan Halligan to be a DC circuit judge. She has been waiting more than 2 years to be confirmed. She was nominated for the second time to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. This is a court that was formed some 65 years ago. It was done because the Supreme Court couldn't do the cases--they didn't have time to do them, and the circuit courts were overwhelmed with work they couldn't do.

    Many consider the DC Circuit to be just a tiny notch below the Supreme Court. In fact, Pat Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday many believe it is more important than the Supreme Court because they have such wide-ranging jurisdiction. Once they make a decision, rarely does the Supreme Court take up their cases. They consider complex appeals of Federal regulations, among other things, and have jurisdiction over vital national security challenges.

    It is also one of the many courts in crisis across the country. Mr. President, 36 to 37 percent of the DC Circuit seats are vacant. There are four vacancies now. The last appointment to the DC Circuit was made in 2006. It is now 2013. In the years since the number of pending cases per judge has grown to almost 200 from a little over 100.

    When Ms. Halligan was nominated to the DC Circuit in 2010, she was nominated to fill one of two vacancies. Many Republicans said they voted against her then because there was no need; the DC Circuit had enough judges. Now it is four short.

    More than 2 years after she was first turned down, her nomination is again before the Senate, and the DC Circuit has four empty seats. The last time the Senate considered Ms. Halligan's nomination, some of my Republican colleagues claimed the DC Circuit didn't need any more judges, so they filibustered the confirmation. No one could credibly make that argument today. If my Republican colleagues choose to filibuster her confirmation a second time, their naked partisanship will certainly be exposed.

    For example, Patricia Wald, who served on that court for 20 years-- for 5 years she was the chief judge--said of the confirmation process: The constitutional system of nomination and confirmation can work only if there is good faith on the part of both the president and the Senate to move qualified nominees along, rather than withholding consent for political reasons.

    For example, if someone doesn't want to vote for her, tell them to vote no. Have them vote no. I invite them to vote no. But don't stop her from having an up-or-down vote.

    I was very troubled with Justice Thomas, who was then a circuit court judge. A decision had to be made by me and many others: Should we allow Justice Thomas an up-or-down vote? The decision was made, yes, we should. He barely made it. He got 2 or 3 votes more than 50. It would have been so easy to stop that nomination, but it would have been the wrong thing to do. As bad as I feel he has been as a jurist, it doesn't matter. He should have had the ability to have an up-or-down vote. A Republican President sent that name forward, and he was entitled to a vote. That was a decision I and many other Democratic Senators made.

    If my Republican colleagues don't like this woman, for whatever reason, vote against her. Don't stop her from having an up-or-down vote. A second partisan filibuster of this highly qualified nominee by my Republican colleagues would be in very bad faith. I repeat: If for some reason you don't like her, vote against her. Don't stop her from having a vote.

    One qualified, consensus judicial nominee ought to be treated as another regardless of the political party of the President who made the nomination.

    President Obama is the only President in 65 years--since this court was formed--to not have a single person put on the DC Circuit. That is how important this court is, and this is how Ms. Halligan and others have been stymied from getting on this court.

    It is not because President Obama's nominees are anything but totally qualified. Ms. Halligan's colleagues have called her a brilliant legal mind. She has outstanding credentials, strong support from lawyers, a vast number of Republicans, former judges, law enforcement officials, and more than 20 former Supreme Court clerks from across the political spectrum.

    She graduated with honors from Princeton and Georgetown Law School. She clerked for Justice Patricia Wald, whom I just quoted, and this woman was a judge in the DC Circuit for 20 years, 5 years as a chief judge.

    If a truly exceptional candidate such as Caitlin Halligan isn't qualified to be a judge in the United States, I don't know who would be. I think it is very delicate ground Republicans are walking on if they think they can filibuster this woman and get away with it. It would be wrong. If they don't like her, vote against her.

    Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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