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 Home > News & Policies > February 2002

For Immediate Release
February 15, 2002

Press Briefing Excerpt by Ari Fleischer 02/15/02

Click here for full transcript.

A couple of other announcements I'd like to make, and then I'll be happy to take questions. The Senate will be heading off into recess, and as they do, there are currently 95 judicial vacancies, which is over 11 percent of the federal judiciary. The 12 regional circuit courts of appeals have 30 vacancies, an extraordinary 18-percent vacancy rate. The Chief Justice, speaking on behalf of the judiciary, recently called on the Senate to act promptly on judicial nominations, in light of what he called "alarming numbers of judicial vacancies."

The President has submitted 90 judicial nominations, but the Senate has voted on only 37. The Senate has thus far failed to vote on 53 of the President's 90 nominees, including the very distinguished jurist, Charles Pickering, to the Circuit Court. And the President believes in and will fight for the nomination of Mr. Pickering.

Despite the very high vacancy rate in the Circuit Court of Appeals, the Senate has voted on only seven of the President's 29 Circuit Court nominees. There appears to be a Circuit Court stall underway, and that does not serve the cause of justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee still has not afforded a hearing to eight of the President's first 11 nominees, who were nominated back in May, over nine months ago.

There is no justification for the Senate's delay of these highly qualified and widely respected nominees. The Senate should not be a roadblock to justice; the Senate needs to take action. They lag far behind the pace of previous Senates, and it is not in keeping with a court system that is well functioning and efficient.

Break in Press Briefing

Q You mentioned the delay again in judicial nominees. You have brought this up every few weeks before Congress goes on a recess. Has the White House learned, or been told at all by Senator Leahy's committee, any reason for the delay?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not really. The Senate makes -- has appointed some people, but clearly, they're lagging behind the pace of previous Senates. And again, in the words of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, there is a problem in the judiciary in terms of the number of vacancies. And it's the Senate's responsibility to make sure that justice does not get bogged down. Especially, it's the Senate's responsibility to make sure that justice does not get bogged down for partisan reasons. And Senator Leahy chairs the committee that is responsible for the pace of nominations, and the President simply hopes that Senator Leahy will not take any actions that bog down justice.

Q Is there any concern here that political reasons are at play, here?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, there seems to be an enhanced lag when it comes to the Circuit Court. And the President just, again, urges the Senate to take action, so that justice is not delayed and, therefore, denied to many people who depend on our federal courts for speedy and prompt justice.

Q Just one more on that. Has there been any personal contact between the President and Senator Leahy?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's regular contact between the Congressional Affairs Office, the Legal Counsel's Office, and Senator Leahy. The President and Senator Leahy may have spoken to each other or seen each other at various events. I couldn't speak more specifically than that.

Break in Press Briefing

Q On these judicial nominees, are any of those vacancies in areas that have been designated as judicial emergencies, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: There are. Let me post the answer on the judicial emergencies; I don't have that on the documentation in front of me. But there have been a number of courts that have been declared as judicial emergencies that the President has named justices -- or judges to fill those emergencies.