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 Home > News & Policies > October 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 30, 2002

President Announces Plan for Timely Consideration of Judicial Nominees

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Today the President outlined his plan to ensure timely consideration of judicial nominees. The President calls on the Senate and the Judiciary to join him in adopting this plan and applying it both now and in the future, no matter who is President or which party controls the Senate. The objective is to fix, on a permanent and bipartisan basis, a judicial confirmation process that is clearly broken.

The Current Crisis

  • There is a vacancy crisis in the federal Judiciary. As of this week, there are 79 vacancies out of the 849 authorized federal judgeships, a 9% vacancy rate. The 12 regional federal appeals courts face a particularly serious crisis, with 28 vacancies out of 167 judgeships, a 17% vacancy rate.

  • Chief Justice Rehnquist's 2001 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, issued when there were 94 vacancies, called the situation "alarming."

  • The Secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which is the federal Judiciary's governing body, stated in May 2002 that the overall shortage of federal judges is "staggering."

  • The American Bar Association report in August 2002 described the status of the federal Judiciary as an "emergency situation."

  • In 1998, when there were 50 judicial vacancies, Chairman Leahy stated that the number of vacancies represented a "judicial vacancy crisis." (AP, 10/22/98)

  • Caseloads in the federal courts continue to grow dramatically. Filings in the federal appeals courts reached an all-time high last year.

  • The Senate has not lived up to its responsibility to hold fair hearings and prompt votes on judicial nominees.

  • The Senate has voted on only 80 of the President's 131 nominees overall and, even more problematic, has voted on only 14 of the President's 32 appeals court nominees. By contrast, in the first two years of the past three Administrations, 60 of the 65 appeals court nominees were confirmed.

  • As of November, 15 of President Bush's appeals court nominees will have been forced to wait more than a year just for a hearing (many are still waiting). That number is more than the number of appeals court nominees who had to wait a year for a hearing in the last 50 years combined.

  • The Chief Justice of the United States, speaking on behalf of the Judiciary in his 2001 Year-End Report, "ask[ed] the Senate to schedule up or down votes on judicial nominees within a reasonable time after receiving the nomination."

  • The American Bar Association report in August 2002 stated that as a result of delays in the judicial confirmation process, "the federal courts . . . suffer, and so does the rule of law."

  • The report stated that the Senate Judiciary Committee's refusal to allow "confirmation proceedings in the full Senate is simply unacceptable to our notion of an appropriate and constitutional nomination process" and added: "Vote them up or down, but don't hang them out to dry."

  • The 2000 report of the bipartisan Citizens for Independent Courts stated that "the views of individual senators, while vital, should not be allowed to undermine collective decision-making in an open, deliberative process" and stated that "the Senate process should proceed expeditiously to a committee hearing, committee review and voting, and floor consideration and voting."

The President's Proposal

This President's plan requires specific commitments from everyone involved in the nomination and confirmation of federal judges:

  • First, the President calls on federal court of appeals and district court judges to notify the President of their intended retirement dates at least a year in advance whenever possible. Because the nomination and confirmation of a federal judge can be a lengthy process even under the best of circumstances, advance notice is necessary to prevent extended unnecessary judicial vacancies. The President's call to the Judiciary builds on existing Judicial Conference recommendations and is intended to create a seamless process whereby a new federal judge is ready to take the bench at or near the time a sitting federal judge retires.

  • Second, Presidents should submit a nomination to the Senate within 180 days of receiving notice of a federal court vacancy or intended retirement. This would help expedite the process by which home-State Senators, Representatives, bar leaders, and others provide their recommendations and evaluations of possible judicial candidates to the President, while leaving ample time for Presidents to vet and choose nominees of the highest quality.

  • Third, the President calls on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing within 90 days of receiving a nomination. The Committee has engaged in too many delays of too many nominees for too many years. A strict deadline, which will apply no matter who is President and which party controls the Senate, is the best way to ensure that judicial nominees are promptly and fairly considered. Ninety days is more than enough time for the Committee to conduct any necessary research before holding a hearing.

  • Fourth, the President calls on the full Senate to hold an up-or-down floor vote within 180 days of receiving a judicial nomination. That is a generous period designed to give both the Committee and the full Senate ample time to evaluate nominees and answer any questions they may have. And all Senators will have an opportunity to have their voices heard and their votes counted.