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For Immediate Release
May 9, 2002
Press Briefing Excerpt by Ari Fleischer 05/09/02
And finally, on the topic of rulings by courts, when the President greets the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, he will make note of the fact that today marks the one-year anniversary of his sending up to the Senate for confirmation the first round of judicial nominations to the Circuit Court. Of the 11 nominees that the President made exactly one year ago today, the Senate has failed to take any action whatsoever on eight of the 11. They have not even been given the courtesy of a hearing.
There is a vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary, particularly on the circuit court level, where nearly 20 percent of the courtrooms have no judges. There is a nearly 20-percent vacancy rate in the circuit court. And the President believes that it is high time now for the United States Senate to set partisanship aside, to rise above the practice that both parties have engaged in over the last 10 to 15, 20 years, and make progress and hold hearings and hold votes on the President's nominees to the judiciary.
This process has broken down and has not served Democrats or Republicans. It's been marked by delays, it's been marked by strife, and the President thinks the time has come for the Senate to move, and move quickly. The pace of this Senate is far beyond the paces of previous Senates, and the President regrets that and will urge action in his meeting.
Q Two unrelated questions. The first on judges. Do Republicans in the Senate bear some responsibility for the lack of action, since they controlled the chamber for a portion of the year, as referenced earlier? And, secondly, on the Palestinian question, there has been a clear shift in rhetoric here in the last week, talking not just about Arafat but "other Palestinian leaders." Is the administration sending a clear signal to Chairman Arafat that if he can't do this, we are prepared to, in fact, deal with other Palestinian leaders --
MR. FLEISCHER: In the order in which you asked the questions, considering the chronology of events, the President nominated his first round of judicial selections on May 9, 2001. The Senate changed hands in June 2001. And so, under no recent measure has a Senate ever acted that quickly on judicial nominations. And particularly, given the fact that the cause of the switch, Senator Jeffords' decision to change parties, took place even earlier than the actual switch of the Senate, clearly the Senate at that point knew the Senate was going to change hands. So I do not think it's fair to say that the Senate Republicans had much opportunity to confirm any of the President's nominees.
The fact of the matter is that the judicial nominees made by the President have been considered under the Democrats' watch, and therefore that it's the Democrat leadership that the President is looking to, to take action to fill the vacancy crisis and stop it from becoming worse.